Exclusive: Education officials to announce access to openly licensed content for educators

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The Department of Education is expected to announce Thursday that federally funded educational content will be openly licensed so that schools can share, customize and use the materials, EdScoop has learned.

The agency will unveil the new initiative, which would require all recipients of federal grants to make their projects and educational resources openly licensed, along with big-name companies like Google, Amazon and Edmodo, according to officials who spoke on background.

Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology, said that a “big announcement” around open educational resources, commonly referred to as OER, was coming this week. He spoke at the State Educational Technology Directors Association conference on Monday.

“There is no reason why we should still be spending $8 billion on textbooks every year,” said Culatta, speaking to a crowd of technology leaders, teachers and vendors who had gathered at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel.

“That is money that you should have in your pockets to do better things with than buy outdated, ink-stained dead trees, which are what textbooks are,” he continued. “We really want to have you thinking about how to use openly licensed resources to transform the learning opportunities for all students.”

According to officials with knowledge of the announcement, the agency will release a notice of proposed rulemaking on Thursday to change the existing regulation to allow open educational resources like online lesson plans, curricula, courses, virtual labs or other online content — which are typically copyrighted — to be licensed to the public for free. The announcement will be made at the White House.

The materials have gained popularity in elementary, middle and high schools with help from organizations like the K-12 OER Collaborative, which selected about 10 vendors to compete to create prototype resources with $1.3 million raised by parent organization The Learning Accelerator, a California-based blended learning nonprofit.

Advocates say the access to high-quality materials is also a digital equity issue.

“Our goal is creating full-course OER at a lower cost to districts,” said Jennifer Wolfe, a partner at The Learning Accelerator, who was also at SETDA. “One of the problems around OER is that it can be piecemeal and the quality is spotty, but we thought, ‘how can we create something that is aligned to college and career learning standards?’ We know there’s a huge need for better materials for students.”

Meredith Jacob of Creative Commons USA, a nonprofit organization that pushes for sharing of publicly licensed content, told EdScoop in an interview that educational resources funded by the federal government through grants, contracts and cooperative agreements, should be made readily available.

“The expansion of OER gives teachers and students more options,” Jacob said. “It’s an important expansion of
the universe of materials that’s available to them. It’s an opportunity for public money to be used for the broadest public benefit.”

The Department of Education is also beginning to notice the need — in the past few months, agency officials hired Sharon Leu, a big OER advocate, to expand higher education initiatives. They also brought on Andrew Marcinek, who is serving as the first open educational resources adviser.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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