The U.S. Department of Education has hired a new adviser to focus on helping schools use “open educational resources,” as districts around the country experiment with the free, flexible materials.
Andrew Marcinek will be the first staff member at the agency ever to serve in the role. He will work out of the office of educational technology under its director, Richard Culatta.
Culatta, in a statement explaining Marcinek’s hiring, said his agency was keen on helping schools explore the possibilities of the open education landscape.
The move will “greatly enhance our ability to support states and districts as they move to using openly licensed learning resources,” Culatta said.
“The use of openly-licensed resources not only allows states and districts to adapt and modify materials to meet student needs, but also frees up funding to support the transition to digital learning.”
A number of school districts in recent years have embraced open educational resources, generally defined as materials created on licenses that permit their free sharing, repurposing, and alteration. (See a primer on the materials that Education Week recently put together, below.)
Some districts have taken up open education resources—which are almost always housed online—out of dissatisfaction with curricula offered by commercial providers, or because of concerns about the cost of those products.
In some cases, districts’ interest in open educational materials has been driven by the need for content aligned to the common-core standards, and their lack of conviction that commercial resources were hitting the mark.
Some open-resource projects have already had a major reach. EngageNY, a website created by the state of New York that offers common core-aligned resources, is estimated to have received more than 20 million downloads so far.
Commercial publishers and content producers say there’s reason to doubt the quality of open resources and question whether they can be maintained and updated without a business model for supporting them.
And to be sure, some districts that tossed out commercial lessons in favor of open materials have been forced to devote big chunks of time and money to organizating the new content to their liking.
Marcinek will work on open education resources at the K-12 and college levels. The department said he will help educators, district and state officials, as well as content developers to help them explore the implications of working with open materials.
Open materials are “an important element of an infrastructure for learning and ranges from podcasts to digital libraries to textbooks and games,” the education department stated.
Marcinek has worked on ed-tech issues at school districts in Massachusetts—most recently in the Grafton school district—and Pennsylvania, the department said. He also spent seven years as a secondary English teacher and college professor in Pennsylvania, according to his bio on the Edutopia website.
His hiring was announced during a visit by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the Williamsfield Community school district in Illinois, a small, rural system that recently turned to open ed resources.
The department recently released a video describing Willamsfield’s shift into the open space: