Using advanced technology to dramatically expand the quality and reach of education has long been a key priority for the Obama Administration.
In December 2013, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report exploring the potential of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to expand access to higher education opportunities. Last month, the President announced a $2B down payment, and another $750M in private-sector commitments to deliver on the President’s ConnectEd initiative, which will connect 99% of American K-12 students to broadband by 2017 at no cost to American taxpayers.
This week, we are happy to be joining with educators, students, and technologists worldwide to recognize and celebrate Open Education Week.
Open Educational Resources (“OER”) are educational resources that are released with copyright licenses allowing for their free use, continuous improvement, and modification by others. The world is moving fast, and OER enables educators and students to access, customize, and remix high-quality course materials reflecting the latest understanding of the world and materials that incorporate state of the art teaching methods – adding their own insights along the way. OER is not a silver bullet solution to the many challenges that teachers, students and schools face. But it is a tool increasingly being used, for example by players like edX and the Kahn Academy, to improve learning outcomes and create scalable platforms for sharing educational resources that reach millions of students worldwide.
Launched at MIT in 2001, OER became a global movement in 2007 when thousands of educators around the globe endorsed the Cape Town Declaration on Open Educational Resources. Another major milestone came in 2011, when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and then-Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis unveiled the four-year, $2B Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT). It was the first Federal program to leverage OER to support the development of a new generation of affordable, post-secondary educational programs that can be completed in two years or less to prepare students for careers in emerging and expanding industries.
To drive accessibility and quality, and to make these resources permanently renewable, the program contained the innovative requirement that all new intellectual property paid for with grant funds be openly licensed for free use, adaptation, and improvement by others.
The first Federal grants for OER under the TAACCCT program were made in 2010; altogether the Federal Government has invested $1.5B to build, develop and expand academic and job-training programs that help students and unemployed workers secure good jobs in growing, high wage industries as quickly as possible. These investments are creating a new pipeline of high-quality OER that will come online for free use in waves over the coming months and years.
The first examples of open TAACCCT deliverables are already in use, with representative efforts that include the National STEM Consortium and the aerospace education programs and curriculum created by the Air Washington community college consortium.
Building on this record of success, OSTP and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are exploring an effort to inspire and empower university students through multidisciplinary OER focused on one of the USAID Grand Challenges, such as securing clean water, saving lives at birth, or improving green agriculture. This effort promises to be a stepping stone towards leveraging OER to help solve other grand challenges such as the NAE Grand Challenges in Engineering or Grand Challenges in Global Health.
This is great progress, but there is more work to do. We look forward to keeping the community updated right here. To see the winning videos from the U.S. Department of Education’s “Why Open Education Matters" Video Contest, click here.
Hal Plotkin is Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the Under Secretary U.S. Department of Education
Colleen V. Chien is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Intellectual Property and Innovation at OSTP