Amazon recently announced Inspire, a platform for open educational resources (OERs) that is in beta testing and expected to be released to the public in a few months. (See the article on EdWeek’s Market Brief site for more information.) Inspire reportedly will allow users to upload, manage, and share content with a user interface having many of the same kinds of features as Amazon’s online shopping sites. Users will be able to search for content and then provide reviews and ratings. (I’ll give that lesson on the quadratic equation four stars…)
Perhaps Amazon’s name and behind-the-scenes technology will prove to be a successful combination. Needless to say, not all OER efforts to date have been overwhelmingly successful – it is still challenging to find high-quality content and when that content materializes, there is still the challenge on the instructor’s side to assemble the bits and pieces (“learning objects”) into cohesive lessons. So, it is not clear why Amazon is choosing to enter the OER space right now and how they are envisioning their business model.
Aside from providing a platform for hosting and sharing content, there are two other components of online learning that apparently are not part of Inspire: peer learning and content development collaboration. Wouldn’t it be nice to have both capabilities integrated with an OER repository?
Peer Learning: Imagine a one-stop shopping experience in which you can go online, search for courses or content, and create a virtual study group around those courses or that content. It would be somewhat similar to what P2PU is doing with their Learning Circles, only the study groups would be virtual rather than meeting face-to-face. Suppose you are studying chemistry and are struggling with stoichiometric equations. It would be very convenient to go online, find OERs on stoichiometry, and best of all find a virtual study group with a peer leader who can guide the group through example problems.
Content Development Collaboration: Looking at OER development from an instructor’s perspective, the ability not only to upload educational content but to also organize groups of collaborators to work on that content together would lead to both quality improvement and reduced development costs. As an instructor, you might invite one or two collaborators to join you in developing materials for a new course and then share those materials with other instructors who are teaching similar courses. With everyone pitching in, the new content would be developed more quickly and have better quality as you and your collaborators catch typos and other issues that are so hard to find when looking at one’s own work.
I recognize that this collaborative model is very different from how most academic content developers approach their work today. However, as the educational landscape continues to evolve, traditionalists will have to come around to new ways of doing things. Perhaps the next generation of faculty members, having themselves been brought up in an educational environment that increasingly encourages collaborative learning, will find it easier to adopt a collaborative approach for content development.
UCI Open is currently working on platforms with both of these capabilities that make use of our growing cache of open content. We have prototypes and hope to release public versions later this year.