Open Education Week 2015

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

As we celebrate Open Education Week 2015, we look forward to implementing the new U.S. Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to promote Open Educational Resources and building momentum for Federal open education initiatives. The availability of high-quality, low-cost digital content in our schools is a priority for the President and a pillar of his ConnectED Initiative. Fostering the use of Open Educational Resources in our nation’s K-12 and post-secondary classrooms can help meet this goal.

Open Educational Resources are learning tools that reside in the public domain or that have been released with intellectual property licenses allowing their free use, continuous improvement, and modification by others. Open Educational Resources can deliver two great benefits for students: lower cost in obtaining the educational resources needed to succeed in school, so that students and schools can redirect funds for other instructional needs; and access to a universe of high-quality, updated content that can be tailored minute-by-minute by educators to reflect new developments and current events.

The Department of Labor has been at the forefront of advancing Open Educational Resources.  The Department recently developed new granting policies for its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Training Grant Program (TAACCCT), which aims to expand post-secondary education and training capacity.  For the first time, the Department has incorporated requirements for grantees to openly license all educational content created with grant funds, promoting institutional collaboration and sharing of Open Educational Resources. Since the program’s inception, grantees at over 700 colleges have launched over 1,500 new programs of study, including degree and certificate programs that prepare students for careers in emerging and expanding industries. By requiring all content, curricula, and learning objects created using TAACCCT funds be licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution license, the Department of Labor is investing in the world’s largest collection of Open Educational Resources.

The Department of Education’s Learning Registry project is another example of Federal efforts to increase the discoverability of open educational content, particularly for use in K-12 contexts, by aggregating and sharing data about online educational content through an open source platform. Several states, including Illinois and California, have built portals that allow educators to search, save, and share Learning Registry resources from institutions including the Smithsonian, National Archives, and NASA.

In the coming year, we will continue to build on these successes at the Federal level as we look to promote the use of Open Educational Resources. Current plans include launching an Online Skills Academy to leverage free and openly-licensed learning resources and using technology to create high-quality, low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, and other employer-recognized credentials. In addition, the Department of State will conduct three overseas pilots to examine new models for using Open Educational Resources to support learning in formal and informal contexts. The results of the pilots will be shared later this year at a workshop – co-hosted by the Department of State, the Department of Education, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy – on challenges and opportunities in open education.

We look forward to working together to advance these initiatives.

Sara Trettin is Digital Engagement Lead in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Dipayan Ghosh is a Policy Advisor in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Your Feedback Wanted: More Open ED Data

I am part of a team that is looking at ways to enhance the Department’s digital services and respond to the White House’s Digital Government Strategy.  We are spearheading a new initiative to make more of the data ED publishes open and developer-friendly via web application programming interfaces (APIs).  APIs allow web developers to pull data from one or more API-enabled sources into another website, application, or mobile app. It makes sharing information more fluid and current.  Check out the currently available 16 ED datasets with APIs on

Open Gov LogoThe Department of Education and the White House are reaching out to developers interested in working with education open data. The Data Jam held in June kicked off development of projects and tools to be presented at an Education Datapalooza event to be held at the White House in October 2012. Datapalooza will be an opportunity to highlight tools and services that leverage open educational data sets (, individual electronic student data (MyData), and data about learning content (Learning Registry) to improve student choices around learning.  Datapalooza will be streamed live (and posted online afterwards) for anyone who wants to participate. Email the team at for more details about the event plans, or if you are currently working/interested in working on open educational data integrations.

But Datapalooza is only the first step to engage the public. We want to hear from you – developers and all of our customers. Tell us which ED data sets and online tools have data that should be more open. Great ideas come from everywhere. If you have an idea for an app that would help you and the public access certain types of information, let us know. Your input will help us prioritize the suggestions made here and some of the ideas we already have in mind.

To get the conversation started, here are a few datasets that could be enabled through API:

For more ideas, see our datasets on and our lists of ED-funded websites and online tools.

Comments open on this blog post will be open through August 20. Our team plans to analyze your feedback and set out a plan for making more of our websites and tools more mobile in the coming months.

Thanks for taking the time to tell us what you think!

Jill James is Web Director at the U.S. Department of Education

Why Open Education Matters Video Competition Winners Announced

What would you do if you thought you had a solution that would make a high-quality education freely available to anyone with a computer or cell phone, help instructors build new teaching skills and get credit for their accomplishments, and also greatly reduce costs for schools, families and students?  You’d want to tell the world!  That is just what the nearly one hundred videographers who entered the “Why Open Education Matters” video competition, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, spent part of this summer doing.

Here are the top three winners:


Congratulations to Blinktower, a creative agency based in Cape Town, South Africa


Congratulations to Laura Rachfalski and her team.  Laura is an artist, videographer and photographer from Philadelphia.


Congratulations to Nadia Paola Mireles Torres and her collaborators from the design firm Funktionell. Nadia has also made all the video assets available for download and reuse under a CC BY intellectual property license.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

In addition to the winning videos, all qualifying videos are available for viewing on the competition website, All of the videos are licensed CC BY, which means others may distribute, remix, and build upon them, even commercially, as long as they give credit to the creators.

The prize winners were determined by a panel of distinguished experts, including Davis Guggenheim, Nina Paley, Liz Dwyer, Anya Kamenetz, James Franco, Angela Lin, and Mark Surman. The contest was a partnership between Creative Commons, The Open Society Institutes and the U.S. Department of Education.  All prize money was provided by non-governmental sources.

Hal Plotkin is a senior policy advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education.

The Power of Open Education Data

Cross-posted from the White House Open Government Initiative.

On Tuesday, Vice President Biden, U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray hosted a roundtable with college presidents who pledged to provide clear, useful information to all incoming college students and their families, as part of their financial aid package, so that they can “know before they owe.”

Open Gov LogoThe President has said keeping college affordable is a shared responsibility. That means the Federal government continuing to make Pell Grants available for low-income students and keeping loans available and affordable for all students who choose to borrow for college. It means states doing their fair share to fund colleges and universities instead of forcing schools to pass funding cuts onto students in the form of higher tuition. And it means postsecondary institutions innovating to find new ways to get students – including low-income students – across the finish line while keeping their costs down.

But it also means students and families voting with their feet – making choices about where to apply and where to enroll based on information about quality and affordability, such as graduation and loan default rates. That can help consumers get good value for their money, and put some competitive pressure on schools to provide a top-notch education for less.

Technology, data, and entrepreneurs can help with college affordability—as well as help address our national priorities in K-12 education.

Read More

“Why Open Education Matters”—Video Competition Launches

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