1. Challenges in Collaboration Between Higher Ed and PreK-12 | Video

Anita R. Walz and Julee P. Farley

Faculty in higher education have very different day-to-day work experiences and expectations than PreK-12 teachers. These differences range from differences in job descriptions to use and planning of time, number of hours in the classroom, criteria for promotion, level of administrative oversight, level of contact with people outside of one’s primary institution — and beyond. This section aims to inform readers of potential challenges in forming collaborative partnerships by individuals from these seemingly similar but vastly different groups of educators.

Learning Objectives

Learners should be able to:

  • Summarize the nature of challenges in collaborative partnerships between higher education and PreK-12 education.
  • Locate permissions and created-works release documents[1][2], and evaluation checklists relevant to open educational resources for PreK-12 materials created in higher education.


  1. Read the presentation abstract and watch the presentation (25 minutes) or read the full transcript (below) of “Boundary Spanners: Bridging Gaps Between Higher Education and PreK-12” presented at the Open Education Conference 2021 by Anita Walz and Julee Farley at Sched or on YouTube[3] here or below.
  2. In up to two pages
    • Summarize the main goals, issues, barriers, and challenges as described by the presenters.
    • Read and summarize the purpose of the associated artifacts (permissions forms, checklists, and templates).
    • If known, describe the preliminary goals and objectives (yours or of the group or individuals you are working with ) for outreach from a higher education setting to a PreK-12 setting and document potential barriers.
  3. Optional: Review and write a one paragraph summary of one or more of the additional readings.

Presentation Abstract

Boundary spanners serve as linking pins between organizations and can also fill structural holes, allowing networks with no previous connection to share information and resources. Using boundary-spanner practices, this presentation summarizes efforts between one university and area PreK-12 schools regarding development and broad sharing of relevant, adaptable PreK-12 OER course materials. Many personnel in higher education want to share their knowledge with a broader audience but lack the ability to create materials that best meet the needs of PreK-12 students. We were able to address these issues through collaboration between university content experts, teachers who have deep expertise in creating individualized learning materials, and processes and platforms for curation and broad sharing. When learning resources are created by the university in consultation with teachers, and shared as accessible and editable OER with broader geographic areas, the materials better fit the actual practice and needs of PreK-12 teachers, as well as allow the university to expand its reach and impact. As PreK-12 teachers are required to provide individualized levels of instruction and course materials for all students, it is critical that these materials be easily and legally editable as well as accessible for students with disabilities. Some of the most significant contributions of this work are in the areas of accessibility, copyright, permission and ability to edit, and broad sharing. Our case study presents rationale, need, process, and the artifacts (permission forms, checklists, and templates) developed together by two “boundary spanners” in order to enable partnership, creation, curation, and free sharing of more useful learning resources.


Video Transcript

Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to boundary spanners: bridging gaps between higher education and PreK-12. I am Anita Walz and I serve as the assistant director of open education and scholarly communication librarian at the university libraries at Virginia Tech. Hello everyone. I am Julie Farley. The work that we’ll be talking about today was completed while I was the university PreK-12 liaison for the center for educational networks and impacts at the institute for creativity arts and technology at Virginia Tech.

Thank you, Julie. Thank you to those of you who went ahead and took our informal survey. We would love to see what kinds of roles you have and what you’re interested in learning. It looks like about half of you are instructors at the college and university level. We have some librarians. We have some PreK-12 teachers. One student—maybe more than one student.

And things that you want to learn:

  • K-12 involvement
  • Could this be applied to adult basic skills course?
  • How did the partnership originate?
  • How have you made it sustainable?
These are really great questions and areas of learning. If we don’t address your specific question we’re planning to leave at least 10 minutes for questions at the end.

In this presentation we’ll discuss the expectations, usefulness, and communication in sharing between higher education and PreK-12. We will talk about misconceptions and implementation. We’ll also introduce this concept of boundary spanners and boundary objects. And as a potential solution to these problems, we’ll overview our project and what we did, how we got started, and what we accomplished. Then we’ll finally leave some time for questions. To give you some context for this sharing between higher education and PreK-12, there is a big history, a long history of sharing between higher education and PreK-12 and some attempts of sharing have been more successful than others. Right now how a lot of teachers share their resources teacher to teacher (usually in the same grade level or within the same school) and often a lot of sharing within school districts. There is not a lot of sharing across districts. So higher education faculty, staff, and students often want to share their resources. PreK-12 is very receptive to this usually because they really want these expert materials authored by people that are outside of their classroom and are really doing this new cutting edge research. But there can be some significant implementation issues.

Some of the implementation issues include a lack of communication that we’re not communicating effectively across our different contexts. In fact, the sharing has been predominantly one-directional: from higher education to PreK-12. When in reality, it is far better for this type of work to be participative. Higher education faculty, staff, and students can create really great resources but if they don’t fit the context, they can’t be personalized by teachers and they don’t consider the classroom environment in mind they’re not helpful and they won’t get used. There are some implementation-related misconceptions on both sides.

We’ll talk first about the misconceptions by PreK-12 and then we’ll move on to the misconceptions by higher ed. The first one in PreK-12 is that teachers may believe that faculty and staff and students in universities are required to do outreach, which is often not the case. And because they believe that faculty, staff, and students are required to do outreach, they may believe that they are skilled in doing outreach, which may not also be the case. Another thing to keep in mind is that teachers may be looking for something to use in their classroom within the next month, but in higher education there is often a grant funding cycle where you apply, you wait to hear, and then you might get funding, you might not. So there can be dramatically different timelines. As far as misconceptions by higher ed: there may be a lack of knowledge about what PreK-12 teachers need in their classroom. For example, often teachers have to teach to standards that are set by the state and prepare their students to take standardized tests at the end of the class. There could be time constraints in the classroom, teachers may be required to cover a certain amount of material within a certain amount of time, so they may not have more than a day or more than 30 minutes to do a certain outreach activity. Also teachers may be required to submit detailed lesson plans that may have specific requirements based on their district. Someone who is not in K-12 public education may not have the knowledge or skills to create the level of detail needed in the lesson plan, and teachers may be required or may prefer to do differentiation for their students meaning that they may make slightly different tasks for their students who have different skills. So what’s really the important takeaway here is recognizing that PreK-12 teachers are experts in teaching their grade and they’re experts at differentiating for their students. So, while teachers may recognize that university faculty, staff, and students are experts in their field, university and higher ed may not have that same recognition of teachers. Or even if they do they might feel that they [those in higher ed] cannot or they should not ask PreK-12 teachers for guidance…that it might be too much of a burden. But with these participatory partnerships it’s really much more beneficial to ask the the expert to help collaborate with you on your resources. And similarly to higher ed, there’s not an obligation for most PreK-12 teachers to bring outreach into their classroom.

Regarding implementation issues in higher education: there are a number of significant issues. First of all, guidance is needed in several different areas. Guidance is needed regarding including and sharing things that are not original to the author such as student works, third-party graphics, and other sorts of elements. Guidance is needed regarding formatting. What kind of formats? What kind of file types are helpful? If we assume that teachers want to customize the things that are shared with them, what kinds of formats can they easily edit? And then lastly, why accessibility or ADA compliance is important, and how to achieve this?

How do we bridge this chasm? How do we bring together two different groups that have compatible goals but different languages, different contexts, and assumptions about each other that are not quite accurate? How do we work together? How can work that benefits both groups be coordinated so that both may reach their goals and move forward in ways that are productive? How do we do this when the work is of great benefit to both groups but is extra— it’s not required. It’s really on top of everything else. And then how do we make the common ground apparent to others —because there is common ground.

One possible solution to this is the boundary spanner. A boundary spanner is a person who can link an organization or groups to share knowledge and resources. One of the tools that boundary scanners often use are called boundary objects. Boundary objects are any object that is part of multiple groups and that can facilitate communication between these groups. Some examples of this could be something like a business plan. It could be a map. It could also be things like field notes to help share your information. So there’s a wide array of what a boundary object can be. So who is a boundary spanner? We are! And it’s likely that there are probably more boundary spanners in your organization than you might realize.

On this next slide we’ll talk about what the roles of a boundary spanner are and their goals. This will help you to identify if you might be a boundary spanner or if you have a boundary spanner in your organization. So the biggest goal of a boundary spanner is to bring together diverse communities in a productive way. Boundary spanners can be formal or informal—meaning that this could be your job. You could be formally assigned to communicate between groups, or it could be informal. It could just be something that you’ve discovered you’re good at and that you’re doing without necessarily being paid or told by anyone to do that. But the big goal is to either link organizations that don’t have overlapping people in them or to span holes in networks. So you may have groups of people that are separate and one person can help bring these groups together. So we’re really focusing on the idea here of mutually beneficial partnerships and that we don’t need to be recreating the wheel at the same time. So it’s much more efficient for us to team up and to share our resources.

Our project started with a referral from Julee’s supervisor regarding copyright and open licensing which is an area in which I (Anita) work. I was happy to meet with them. But something interesting happened. So initially we thought that we would just talk with Anita maybe once or twice to get some information and that after that we would be good to go. We would have everything figured out. But what we really found is that it was much better for us to meet routinely and that we could have this goal of creating documents that can scaffold what our creators are doing.

So we’re hoping that the documents we’ve created can really help guide the process that we’re going to talk to you about. We wanted to make the process more independent for potential contributors. As we’ve alluded to before, we identified several areas in which the additional documentation was needed:

How our project started

Consultation regarding copyright and open licenses [lead to] development of instructional documents and forms

    1. Further instruction needed regarding use of in-copyright third-party works, preferred file formats, and document accessibility
    2. a) Higher education students own their own work b) Faculty must have (non-coerced) permission from students to share student work
    3. CENI needs permission to “publish” works
    4. Process-management checklists (for authors and CENI)

This led us to create a review checklist for submitters. This clearly communicated to higher education faculty, staff, and their students the best practices for designing shared content for PreK-12, focusing primarily on ownership including (1) student works, and (2) other third party works, so looking at things like fair use, open licenses, public domain, using your own original work, and secondly accessibility of created resources for students with disabilities.

We also created a form to obtain permission from a third party (including students) to release under an open license. This will be used by the submitter for students and or third party works. We adapted a form so that submitters are giving permission to the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts at Virginia Tech (the Center) to publish and release the materials under an open license. And the last thing that we created were these process management checklists. These are really review checklists to make sure that the submitter can ensure that they’re submitting all the things that they should be [submitting] like their content, any of their third-party agreements, and that they’re agreeing to let the Center publish their work. We’ve since learned that GoOpen Virginia, which is the platform through which the content will be shared, provides some guidance resources that meet some of these needs. These were added in July 2021. We also feel it’s valuable for Virginia Tech and for the Center to have customized instruments because we’re finding more projects within the institution that need this type of guidance.

We’re going to talk about what we accomplished and why it matters. One of the most important goals that we’ve accomplished is that faculty can share more easily. Faculty, staff, and students can share more easily—which was really our original goal. We wanted these people to be able to get their resources out there in a widespread way that’s going to work for teachers. We now have documentation, or we have documents, that can be used in projects where faculty are creating and sharing their original learning materials and incorporating students in the learning process to share their [students’] original learning materials. With regard to my learning and learning in higher ed about the K-12 context, there’s a lot to be learned about past problems and existing processes, the blind spots that higher ed may have toward PreK-12.

Knowing about the importance of a bi-directional flow of information in developing these these tools has helped us to inform the collaborative ventures. We hope for the better.

And for me, I learned a lot more about copyright, open licensing, accessibility, and how some of these things aren’t necessarily as complicated and scary as they might initially seem. We also found that we looked for these kinds these kinds of resources and we did not find them. So we think the framework may exist in pieces but we’re not finding that it exists anywhere else (or not that we easily found). So we’re working on an open publication regarding this project to document some of our work. We have some additional findings and observations from our work in the form of messages for higher education and then messages for PreK-12. So if we were to address a higher education group that is interested in starting a project with PreK-12 teachers, these are the messages that we would want to share: (1) PreK-12 teachers are experts at teaching, (2) that there is a lot of effort that goes into creating a generalizable lesson plan that is shareable (it’s complex, it’s not small and it’s not easily accomplished), and (3) generally in projects like this, teachers who create these sorts of resources don’t own them (and they are usually paid for their contributions).

So, some questions that you can ask to help you create your partnership with K-12 could be things like: (1) What standards are your students struggling with? This could help you get an idea of where the teachers might need a real world example that could help their students better understand the concept. (2) How much time do you have to spend on this specific task? This could help you make sure that the thing that you’re designing will fit into their classroom constraints. (3) Is there specific terminology that should be included that you want students to be exposed to? With a lot of educational standards, teachers are told to cover very specific terms in their lessons. So, including those [terms] in yours will really help validate that and reinforce what teachers are teaching. (4) What would make it easy for you to actually use the material? Creating something is great but if it’s really difficult to use, and it doesn’t get used, then it’s not as great.

So being able to have something that’s easily-editable, for example, often helps teachers. (5) When do you plan to teach the material? (6) How far in advance would you like to receive it? This is really being aware that when a teacher receives a lesson plan they still have to review it and prepare for implementation in their classroom. So, being aware of how much leeway they need to actually make that happen [is important].

We’re now going to talk a little bit about messages that would be appropriate for PreK-12 people in these sorts of projects. Right, so keeping in mind as we discussed earlier that project timelines in higher education can be much longer than they are in PreK-12 and may also have a higher degree of uncertainty. For example, if you’re applying for a grant, this project may or may not be funded which indicates more uncertainty than teachers might anticipate in their classroom.

There’s also [the reality that] if you apply for this grant you may not hear about a funding result for months. So keeping in mind that maybe you’re even planning implementation for something in the next school year. Also knowing that without funding, higher education faculty, students, and staff may not actually have an obligation or an actual opportunity to conduct outreach. And the outreach generally isn’t something that’s rewarded by the tenure and promotion process.

Resources and Additional Reading

  1. Release form for media, illustrations, and figures. (2021) In Boundary Spanners. VTechWorks. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/105384
  2. Contributor agreement template. (2021) In Boundary Spanners. VTechWorks. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/105384
  3. Open Education Conference. (2021) Boundary Spanners: Bridging Gaps Between Higher Education and PK12. YouTube. https://youtu.be/gYzCzWaNJb0
  4. Boundary Spanners. (2021). VTechWorks. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/105384


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Making Open Educational Resources with and for PreK12 Copyright © 2023 by Anita R. Walz and Julee P. Farley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.