Feds Searching for Partner to Support Open Educational Resources Project

Managing Editor

The U.S. Department of Education is looking for nonprofit organizations to help support its #GoOpen campaign to nurture state and district take-up of “open” educational resources.

The #GoOpen campaign was launched in 2015 by the Obama administration, as part of a partnership with private companies and other organizations to speed the use of openly licensed materials in school communities around the country.

One of the prevailing questions in the open educational resource community has been whether the momentum for those resources would continue to grow or wither away under the Trump administration.

The department initially put out a call for statements of interest from organizations on May 10, but the response apparently didn’t satisfy the agency. So in December, the department said it was releasing another notice “in order to more widely publicize the call and reach a broader group of organizations.”

The due date for the revised application is today, Jan. 16. But just how many nonprofits will bite on feds’ request remains to be seen.

One important detail that might give applicants pause: The feds are not offering prospective outside partners any funding for their work.

That reality is reflected in the department’s notice, in which the agency says one requirement for an outside organization is any such group having “the resources necessary to support its own activities during this partnership.”

The #GoOpen campaign was announced three years ago by the department of education as part of a broad effort by the Obama administration to cultivate experimentation with and use of open educational resources.

Open educational materials are typically defined as academic resources created on licenses that allow them to be shared, repurposed, and altered as teachers and students see fit. Over the past few years, some districts have shown a strong interest in OER as alternatives to traditional commercial materials because of the flexibility and sense of ownership they offer teachers and schools. Some commercial providers view OER skeptically, saying the resources can quickly grow out of date and require extensive curation by classroom educators. (Other commercial entities, however, have sought to weave elements of OER into their products.)

The #GoOpen campaign was designed to provide a network of support for districts and states interested in shifting to the use of OER by pairing them with other districts and states that were further along. The idea was to promote the exchange of ideas on the curation and tagging of resources, as well as professional development and other mentoring that would be useful to state and local policymakers.

So far, 20 states and 114 districts are taking part in the #GoOpen network, the department said in its notice. The agency says it wants to work with one or more nonprofits or consortia of nonprofits to expand the network. Specifically, the department says it needs partners who can help it engage states and districts in regional “communities of practice”; help promote the sharing of OER and promising uses of the materials, and weave “evidence of efficacy…into the broader education policy dialogue.”

Kristina Ishmael-Peters, who served as the K-12 OER fellow at the department during the Obama administration, said it was understood during the early days of the #GoOpen effort that the agency would eventually seek outside partners to help it grow.

Ishmael-Peters is now the public interest technology and education policy fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank. She said her group initially expressed interest in partnering with the department of education at the time of the May notice, but then later heard from the agency that it was seeking a broader pool of applicants. Her organization is not re-applying, partly because Ishmael-Peters is leaving her post near the end of this year, she said.

She’s been encouraged by the continued interest among states and districts in #GoOpen, which suggests their commitment to using those materials will grow.

The next phase of #GoOpen–one where an outside partner can play a big role–is likely to center in “how are we supporting these districts with professional learning?” she said.

She said she was heartened by an online article touting #GoOpen’s progress that the department of education posted in May. She said she hoped the Trump administration would back states’ and districts’ ambitions.

“I still remain optimistic, especially with the Federal Register notice, that they’ll support the project itself,” Ishmael-Peters said of the Trump administration. But an outside help is critical, she said, “to make this sustainable.”

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