Amazon Education to Launch New Website for Open Education Resources

Associate Editor


Amazon Education is working on a new platform that will allow schools to upload, manage, share, and discover open education resources from a home page that in some ways resembles the one shoppers are accustomed to accessing on the massive online retailer’s website.

School administrators learned about the site, to be called Amazon Inspire, during a “Transitioning to OER” session Friday as part of the National Conference on Education of the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, held here.

The new platform is in beta testing now, and is scheduled to be released publicly within the next two to three months, according to Andrew Joseph, vice president of strategic relations for Amazon Education.

Users of the site will be able to add ratings and reviews, and to receive recommendations based on their previous selections. Educators will be able to curate open resources, self-publish material they have developed, and put a school’s entire digital library that is open and freely available online, Joseph said.

Along the left pane of the web page, users will select categories to modify their searches for open resources, much the way shoppers on Amazon today can choose categories to filter their searches.

The company is looking for more districts to become partners for the testing phase before launch, Joseph told the audience of mostly superintendents at the session, which also featured Andrew Marcinek, who was named the first open-ed resources adviser in the U.S. Department of Education last year, and Devin Vodicka, superintendent of the Vista Unified schools in San Diego County, Calif., whose district is testing the site.

Amazon Inspire will be made available to schools for free. “We’ve made a commitment that we will never charge for this,” Joseph said, noting it will be “a completely free, open platform for free resources.”

Asked by one superintendent about the company’s financial interest in the effort, Joseph said, “Amazon is a big commercial entity and we have to make this sustainable over time. This piece we have committed to making absolutely free forever. We’re not going to lock the content up. We promised we won’t put a pay wall in front of it.”

While Joseph said the company has not decided exactly how it will achieve financial sustainability for Amazon Inspire, he said it could be in connecting users to books they might want to buy to go with a unit on Shakespeare, for instance, or in using Amazon’s capabilities in self-publishing books. “We don’t know exactly what it looks like … but we believe we have all these other paths down the road,” he said.

Vodicka said a lesson one of his educators uploaded in testing requires certain materials like batteries and coils, so he could envision that Amazon’s recommendation technology would someday surface links to whatever needs to be purchased to complete a lesson.

Amazon Education’s research indicated that “teachers spend 12 hours a week on content creation and sharing on their own,” said Joseph, using Google Drive or shared folders within a district. “If you think about those resources, they’re not all that discoverable or sharable.”

Vodicka displayed a slide showing how his district shares the OER it has discovered or that educators have created, which mirrored the description of district-created folders or documents in Google.

The OER that are added to Amazon Inspire will be assigned metadata tags identified through the Learning Registry, a federally sponsored, online information-sharing network.

“All of these groups–Amazon, Microsoft, Edmodo–they’re publishing their platforms on top of the Learning Registry,” explained Marcinek. These tags will contain the information, such as the publisher, location, subject area, and standards alignment of a piece of content, that make it searchable.

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