Thursday, September 25, 2014 News

White House Announces Open Education Initiative in Open Government Plan

Open Education

Yesterday President Obama announced a new initiative to promote open education as part of an update to the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. This exciting development represents an important milestone in U.S. advocacy efforts — a national commitment to open education straight from the White House — and also adds to a growing international movement for advancing open government through openness in other areas. While the goals of the new initiative are relatively small in scale, it will contribute positively to open education both in the U.S. and abroad and also provide a significant avenue for future advocacy efforts.

The National Action Plan update entitles the initiative “Promote Open Education to Increase Awareness and Engagement” and includes three action items to be carried out in various collaborations between the Departments of Education, Labor and State and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP):

  • Organize a workshop with stakeholders from academia, industry and government to foster international collaboration and produce best practices on open education policy
  • Conduct three pilot programs overseas that use OER to support learning
  • Launch an online skills academy through $25 million in competitive grants that will offer open online courses and create high-quality free or low-cost pathways to degrees and other credentials

Obama announced the initiative in a speech at the 3rd anniversary meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral effort to secure commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

Last month, SPARC participated in a stakeholder meeting convened by OSTP to discuss how open education could be advanced through OGP. The participants identified several key areas where the goals of open education and open government overlap, including international collaboration, open licensing policies for federally funded resources, and increased transparency in government spending and procurement processes relating to educational materials.

Image: OER advocates including SPARC’s Nicole Allen (center back) stand outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. after a discussion on open education and open government (CC BY 4.0)

Similar conversations about open education and open government are happening around the world. Most notably, the Slovak Republic recenly proposed an ambitious set of actions relating to OER and Open Access in a public draft of its 2015 OGP action plan (unofficial English translation here). The plan seeks to adopt open licensing policies for both publicly funded research and educational materials, and also promotes collaboration among stakeholders and the international community.

This week, members of the Open Policy Network — a coalition that supports open licensing for publicly funded resources that SPARC joined as a founding member earlier this year — submitted a letter of support for this section of the plan to the Minister of Education, Science and Sport, who also serves as Slovakia’s Digital Champion. While the plan will almost certainly be scaled back before it is finalized, advocates inside Slovakia say that the open education section will remain part of the plan.

Conversations are ongoing in other countries, including Moldova, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. We expect this list of countries to expand as programs such as Europe’s Opening Up Education initiative roll out, and as the body of evidence demonstrating the positive impacts of OER on teaching and learning continues to grow. Obama put it perfectly, “Education is a cornerstone of progress — if we want good governance we need an educated and informed citizenry.”

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