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Promoting Open Education to Help Teachers and Students Around the World

At a meeting of the Open Government Partnership at the United Nations, President Obama announced four new and expanded open government initiatives to promote open education, helping teachers and students across the world.

“Because we know that education is a cornerstone for progress…we’re going to do more to help citizens in other countries, especially students, access the incredible online educational tools and resources we have in the States.”

    -    President Obama, September 24, 2014

An educated population is a global asset. Open education, which enables educators and students to freely and legally access, reuse, and adapt educational resources, is increasingly being used to help teachers and students in the United States and around the world.

On Wednesday, during his remarks at a meeting of the Open Government Partnership at the United Nations in New York, President Obama celebrated open government around the globe and announced four new and expanded open government initiatives that will advance our efforts through the end of 2015.

As part of this effort, the President reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to promoting open education.  The United States is committed to:

  • Raise open education awareness and identify new partnerships. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will jointly host a workshop on challenges and opportunities in open education internationally with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government.
  • Pilot new models for using open educational resources to support learning.  The State Department will conduct three pilots overseas by December 2015 that use open educational resources (OER) to support learning in formal and informal learning contexts. The pilots’ results, including best practices, will be made publicly available for interested educators. 
  • Launch an online skills academy. The Department of Labor (DOL), with cooperation from the Department of Education, will award $25 million through competitive grants to launch an online skills academy in 2015 that will offer open online courses of study, using technology to create high-quality, free, or low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials.

Building on Wednesday’s announcement at the Open Government Partnership, we're excited to announce additional momentum and progress by federal agencies on open education, including:

  • Supporting the creation and curation of openly licensed content. The National Institutes of Health anticipates spending $10 million to fund open educational resources on Big Data in Biomedicine.
  • Creating platforms to facilitate use and sharing of open educational resources. The Department of Energy’s National Training and Education Resource (NTER) has created a portfolio of open-source, browser-based software tools that will be provided to any users free of charge. NTER allows any type of institution to develop, deploy, and manage educational and training courses for audiences of any type, and acts as a distributed repository of courses and content, with servers in federal agencies, universities, colleges, and commercial organizations. EERE will establish an open source governance community that will support continuous development and deployment of NTER, track and report deployments of NTER, and produce an analysis of the feasibility of a funding opportunity to transfer NTER to an open-source community outside of the federal government.

These commitments build on existing Administration initiatives to create educational resources that will be open to all. These include the burgeoning marketplace of free and open-licensed learning resources developed through the four-year, $2B Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT) grant program and the Department of Education’s First in the World $75M grant competition.

The decision to open these educational resources will result in broader accessibility, flexibility, and impact in areas of critical need and opportunity. In the case of NIH, for example, turning Big Data into knowledge requires a large number of scientists of all career stages to update their data science knowledge and skills. OER could potentially address that challenge due to its broad reach and flexible use. 

OER can be a powerful tool for the State Department because it advances several of its core objectives. Because OER is free and openly accessible, it plays an important role in increasing access to high-quality educational content around the world, particularly for underserved and disadvantaged communities.  It also helps ensure that women and girls have access to educational resources.  More education correlates to greater social equality.

Open education resources can also improve the quality of teaching and learning here in the United States by fostering experimentation that can accelerate student comprehension and support more affordable educational experiences. A study of the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative statistics course demonstrated accelerated learning, with participating students mastering required course material in half the time of a traditional course. Likewise, a recent study by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition calculates that open educational resources have already saved post-secondary students $100 million in out of pocket costs over the last few years.

We join the President and leaders, learners, and teachers around the world in celebrating these efforts.

Kumar Garg is Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation

Colleen V. Chien is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Intellectual Property and Innovation