Celebrating Open Education Week with Open Educational Resources

Students work in the computer lab at their school. (AP Photo)
Students work in the computer lab at their school. (AP Photo)

March 7-11 marks Open Education Week: a perfect opportunity to celebrate the potential of open educational resources, or OER. Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials that have intellectual property licenses allowing free use and repurposing. Today thousands of open educational resources enable instruction and learning, ranging from MIT OpenCourseWare’s full courses and OpenStax’s college textbooks to the individual lesson plans and tools available on OER Commons.

While the “free use” part is exciting, I am more intrigued by the potential opportunities to edit and adapt open educational resources in new contexts. Educators anywhere can borrow open materials from their peers around the world: students in Jordan and Lebanon can use and adapt materials produced in the United States, and U.S. students can learn from materials developed in India or South Africa. The materials can spark new dialogues, creating opportunities for teachers and students everywhere to interact. Open educational resources increasingly allow us to connect, share, and engage across borders and cultures. And they will play a significant role in helping achieve United Nations Sustainability Goal #4 — adopted by the U.S. and other General Assembly member countries in 2015 — to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote life-long learning.”

In the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, we are thrilled to collaborate with government officials and civil society representatives to increase the number and availability of government-funded open educational resources. As part of our commitment in the 2016 U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, we will publish best practices and tools for agencies interested in developing grant-supported open licensing projects. These tools will detail how they can integrate open licensing into projects from technical and legal perspectives.

Making more resources available is only the beginning. The challenge ahead lies in how we can make the most of OER as a powerful tool for mutual understanding as well as the two-way educational exchanges we can create with OER-based learning. We piloted using OER in three 2015 exchanges and explored preliminary findings here. However, we want to know what you recommend for our collective engagement with open educational resources.

How could sharing these resources help you, your learning communities, and your government? How might we ensure these tools will be useful and adaptable to local needs in other countries and learning contexts?

Likewise, how can we find tools that your communities have created, and make them more accessible for communities here and around the globe? What sort of exchanges or collaborations could we build around these resources?

Please send us your ideas and suggestions to tell us what you’ve seen (or would like to see) so that together, we can seize the incredible opportunity of OER to build dialogue and community.

About the Author: Evan Ryan serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.