Did you know there is now a high quality, college-level statistics textbook available entirely free online, free high school STEM textbooks and a set of free, openly-licensed books for the highest-enrolled college courses? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. These free learning materials are just a few examples of a relatively new type of learning material called “Open Educational Resources.”
Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials, like textbooks, courses, study guides, lectures and illustrations, in digital or print, that are available in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. In recent years, several foundations and number of government agencies have funded the creation of OER covering virtually hundreds of topics and dozens of academic subjects.
And yet even now, more than ten years after the Open Educational Resources movement got started, it’s a safe bet to say that most Americans don’t have any idea what the words “open educational resources” mean or why they’re important. Likewise, there are still very few school districts, colleges or universities that are taking full advantage of these free and open learning resources, which can enhance the quality of teaching and learning while also driving down the costs imposed on students, families and systems of education at all levels.
ED is working with partners to turn that around. Today marks the official launch of the Why Open Education Matters Video Competition, a partnership between Creative Commons, the Open Society Institute and the Department of Education. The competition will award cash prizes of up to $25,000 for the best short videos that explain the use and promise of free, high-quality open educational resources and describe the benefits and opportunities these materials create for teachers, students and schools.
“We haven’t come close to tapping the full potential of OER,” says Cathy Casserly, who helped launch the OER movement twelve years ago as a program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and who now serves as the CEO of Creative Commons, a California-based non-profit that provides the copyright licenses that help authors, artists and educators share their works with the world on their own terms.
“We need to help more people understand that these materials are not just free,” she says, “they can also create communities of teachers and learners who collaborate on their continuous improvement, and that’s the real magic – in the actual reuse and remix.”
As Casserly points out, powerful things can happen when people share what they know. At its heart, that is what education has always been all about. In 2012, thanks to the advent of the Internet, and organizations such as Creative Commons that promote the legal sharing of creative and educational works, we have a whole new set of opportunities to increase access to high-quality education and job-training experiences. The question now is how do we accelerate this trend so that it makes a real contribution to meeting President Obama’s goal that the U.S. will once again have the best-educated workforce in the world by 2020? The results of this video competition may point the way.
Click here to get started on creating your video for the Why Open Education Matters Video Competition.
Hal Plotkin is the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education