Open Educational Resources

Amazon Jumps into Digital Ed Resource Business; Starts with OER

Amazon has expanded its footing in the education arena with a new service that allows teachers to search for, curate, share, review and access digital resources for use in the classroom. The program is intended to help reduce the amount of time teachers spend online hunting down learning materials for their students.

Although the initial impetus for Amazon Inspire, as it's called, is to focus on free content, there's no indication that Amazon won't add resources for purchase in the future. The announcement came during this week's International Society for Technology in Education 2016 Conference, taking place in Denver.

Inspire, which is currently in beta testing by multiple schools and districts, includes these features:

  • Search, which allows the user to filter results by numerous criteria, including grade level, standard or source;
  • Collections, which lets users compile resources into a group and add a description and instructional text and then share the collection with others;
  • Upload, to help users drag and drop files they want to share; add metadata, such as a title and description and relevant details; and then publish the content to the service;
  • Reviews, which enables users to rate and review resources that can be used to rank-order results; and
  • Support for accessibility, including usage by major screen readers. Users who upload content can also indicate the accessibility features of the material they contribute.

The United States Department of Education is supporting the service. In a prepared statement Director for the Office of Technology Joseph South indirectly commended Amazon. "To truly transform learning in our schools and ensure educational equity for all students — regardless of grade level or zip code — it is crucial that we put high quality, open educational resources at teachers' fingertips," he said. "The leadership of states, districts and innovative platform providers is critical for setting a vision and creating an open ecosystem where educators and students can access the tools, content and expertise necessary to thrive in a connected world."

The Department of Education has contributed its own content to the effort. The agency has provided access to its collection of information about U.S. colleges that powers the College Scorecard, which helps families make decisions related to college selection.

The company has lined up a number of innovative school systems to test out Inspire, including Tulare County Office of Education in Visalia, CA; Knox Gifted Academy in Chandler, AZ; Mineola Public Schools in New York; and Avonworth School District in Pittsburgh, among others.

"Amazon Inspire is that place to not only share, but learn from each other and enhance our craft," said Knox teacher Michael Buist.

"As more teachers share content on Amazon Inspire, other teachers will find high quality, highly successful classroom materials," added Mineola's Superintendent, Michael Nagler. "That is a victory for every child."

Tulare is testing the service as a contributor. "We're delighted that Amazon has provided a service for our talented curriculum staff to distribute nationwide the quality resources they carefully vetted or created for teachers," explained Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "We look forward to further growing and sharing open educational resources as the result of the collaborations that emerge on Amazon Inspire."

Other organizations contributing to the collection include Newseum, a museum dedicated to news and journalism, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, a renowned collection of resources dedicated to the Bard.

Amazon is still inviting participants to join the beta process on the Inspire website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.