Department of Labor funnels B into free higher ed OER


The Department of Labor is adding more to its already massive, online educational library.

SkillsCommons, a repository that houses free, open educational resources, is part of a Labor initiative that provides financial assistance to community colleges. California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the country, currently administers the program and will acquire the OER site in 2018.

The Labor initiative, called the Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program (TAACCCT), allocates funding to community colleges that have trade programs specializing in areas like manufacturing, healthcare, energy and information technology.

The resource “makes the ticket to the middle-class more affordable,” said Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor of academic technology services at CSU. “Because everyone, no matter who you are – rich or poor, urban or rural, early in your career or late – should have free access to job-driven, educational material.”

CSU officials at the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching program (MERLOT) manage the website. MERLOT is the university’s pre-existing OER platform, which made the decision for CSU to administer SkillsCommons an easy one.

“We got selected to manage SkillsCommons because we’ve been in this business for a long time,” said Hanley. “MERLOT has been a project for CSU for 19 years. That’s part of why the Department of Labor chose our proposal to build the site.”

CSU will continue to administrate SkillsCommons for the next two years, until the contractual agreement with the Department of Labor ends. Then, CSU will merge the content from SkillsCommons with their own information database.

MERLOT currently has more than 65,000 educational resources and more than 130,000 registered users worldwide, officials say. SkillsCommons now has 6,000 OER materials.

The Department of Labor has agreed to channel $2 billion into TAACCCT programs over the four-year span of the SkillsCommons contract. The grants support about 700 community colleges across the U.S.

“This project could only have happened through the leadership of the Department of Labor in collaborating with 700 community colleges,” Hanley told EdScoop. “The requirement of the Creative Commons license was insightful, inspiring and essential for the training of the workforce of tomorrow.”

The materials on SkillsCommons are protected by a Creative Commons license. So anyone with an internet connection can search the database and share the tons of career-focused information with others. The site is easy to navigate and allows users to browse by industry.

SkillsCommons also provides support services to users and TAACCCT grant recipients.

“We have enough resources that could be very helpful to a lot of people,” Hanley said. “SkillsCommons continues to grow, and folks are submitting their sources, so we update it everyday.”

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