Feds Pick California Nonprofit as Partner on Open Educational Resources Project

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The U.S. Department of Education has selected a nonprofit organization to help the agency share ideas and best practices with states and districts around the country that are trying to ramp up their use of “open” educational resources.

The agency said it will rely on the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education to “enhance and expand” the #GoOpen network, a campaign initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration that brings together private companies and other organizations to support the development of openly licensed materials.

Twenty states and 114 districts are taking part in #GoOpen, the department says. The agency has touted the project as a way for school districts and states to trade ideas on how to find and make effective use of open materials, through professional development and other means.

The institute, known as ISKME, has been heavily involved in developing open educational resources. Founded in 2002 and based in the Bay Area, it oversees OER Commons, a platform that allows teachers, librarians, curriculum specialists, and others to download, alter, and share resources–and collaborate while doing so.

The organization has backed #GoOpen since its launch, department officials said in an online post giving details of the partnership. The institute’s work has included taking part in regional summits around the country, during which it has offered training on how K-12 officials can find and tailor open resources to their needs.

The partnership “will enable us to build on what we have learned in our work with educators over the last three years to collaboratively support effective communities of practice and develop new tools and processes for sharing knowledge across all education stakeholders,” wrote Sara Trettin, a policy advisor in the department of education’s ed-tech office, in the post.

Open educational resources are academic materials created on licenses that give teachers and others the right to share, repurpose, or alter them for their own specific classroom needs.

Over the past few years, some school systems have shown a strong appetite for OER as alternatives to traditional commercial materials. For-profit providers of open materials, at the same time, question the value of open educational options, saying the materials tend to grow stale quickly because they’re not supported by a revenue stream that allows them to be updated and modified, particularly for the demands of the digital age.

Department officials said the partnership with ISKME will focus on supporting #GoOpen in several ways, including:

  • Giving states and districts new opportunities to exchange information about strategies for using open educational resources through #GoOpen, so that good ideas can be replicated;
  • Helping #GoOpen states and districts document their strategies and curate professional learning resources focused on using open materials to improve classroom instruction;
  • Building “communities of practice” in states and districts to focus on common challenges and shared areas of need. This work will occur through in-person sessions and virtually, the department said; and
  • Collecting and sharing evidence of the effectiveness of open educational resources by forging connections between academic researchers and K-12 officials, and then figuring out ways to weave that knowledge into education policy.

One of the big questions about #GoOpen was whether it would survive the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration.

But last year, the department of education under President Trump seemed to signal a measure of support by putting out a call for statements of interest from organizations interested in partnering with the agency. The initial response from outside groups, however, apparently didn’t satisfy the agency. So in December, the department released another notice in order to more broadly publicize it among a wider group of organizations.

The department of education said it was not offering funding to potential partner organizations, which may have stifled some of the outside interest.

Many advocates of open educational resources had questioned whether #GoOpen would get “mothballed” with the political administration changeover, as has often occurred with education policies during changes of power, said Doug Levin, the president of EdTech Strategies LLC, which consults with nonprofits, commercial companies, government officials and others.

“It’s heartening to see that the support for OER is continuing,” Levin said. If #GoOpen is available as an exchange for ideas and information about academic materials, it ultimately “increases people’s choices at the district and state level.”

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