PanOpen Launches Platform as ‘Open’ Education Market Evolves

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As schools and colleges experiment with–and in some cases move to aggressively adopt–“open” educational resources, commercial and nonprofit organizations are trying to address what they see as an underlying need: helping educators organize and enhance that content.

A new provider of one of those platforms for curation and enhancement, panOpen, announced its official launch recently. PanOpen works at the higher education level–it currently says it has nearly 100 pilot programs in place at college and universities across the United States–but it has its eye on the K-12 space.

The company’s founder, Brian Jacobs, said in an interview that his organization has been fielding requests from potential pre-college clients and is likely to begin moving into that market “within the next year or two.”

“There’s a great deal of interest and applicability to K-12,”  Jacobs said.

Other for-profit providers, as well as nonprofits, have created platforms that in one way or another seek to help clients curate open ed resources, said Cable Green, the director of open education at Creative Commons. That nonprofit organization supports open resources and has established copyright licenses to allow them. He mentioned Lumen Learning and OER Commons as just two examples.

Two years ago, those services “would have been highly unusual, but it’s becoming more common,” Green said. “People want these services for a lot of different reasons, but it’s a way to segment [content] for a particular audience.”

So far, many of panOpen’s clients are academic departments within colleges, and individual faculty who are seeking to create their own customized libraries of open content, generally defined as materials created on a license that allows for resources to be freely distributed and shared, and reshaped as users see fit.

PanOpen casts itself as an alternative to traditional textbooks. Departments and faculty can access resources housed on the platform for free, and edit and contribute to it. The platform can be used for any academic subject, but it has “pillar” resources in biology, business, chemistry, economics, finance, history, and psychology.

Students are charged a subscription fee per course for access–an amount that panOpen, in a statement, argues will cut their costs over traditional textbooks by 75 percent or more.

The value of panOpen, Jacobs argues, is its ability to reshape and supercharge open resources into forms that meet student and faculty needs.  The platform offers data analytics and reporting; conversion of open documents from basic formats into higher-grade presentations with more functions and usefulness;  features that allow for notetaking, quizzes, and communications tools for faculty and students; and an ability to integrate with learning management systems, among other functions.

The analytics and tracking software can be used for a variety of functions, Jacobs said, including making it easy for students to sift through their notes and highlighted texts in a systematic way. Jacobs says his platform also has the capacity to financially compensate contributors of open materials–the sort of step that he argues is needed to make open materials more sustainable in the long-term.

Green predicts that over the next two or three years, as  the use of open materials grows, major providers of commercial academic content will seek to create their own platforms for curating and enhancing open content from a variety of sources.

The open material could end up serving as features that lure customers in and gives them what they want, Green said, with commercial providers then finding ways to build revenue streams on top of the library of free materials.

If big commercial-content providers are going to take that step, their efforts have to address “curation, tech tools, and sustainability” Jacobs responded in a follow-up e-mail, adding that making a transition from providing proprietary content would not be easy for them.

His company’s “foundation and starting point ” is open content, he said. “The platform architecture, technology choices, and the entire culture and orientation of the company are focused on that kind of content, and in solving issues specific to it.” Many large education companies, he said, have been “historically focused elsewhere.”


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