Amazon’s Open Educational Resources Website Gets Off to a Slow Start

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — July 19, 2017 3 min read
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A year after Amazon launched Amazon Inspire, its foray into school curriculum and open educational resources, the site is open for browsing by teachers—but still is missing some key features.

Amazon Inspire uses the familiar trappings of Amazon’s shopping site—starred reviews, a search bar, clear categories—to offer free lesson plans and other educational materials. Anyone with an Amazon account can browse the thousands of lesson plans, worksheets, and more, created by a mix of states, companies, nonprofits, and individuals and shared using Creative Commons licenses. Users can create “collections” of resources and write reviews of the resources they use.

But a feature that would allow teachers to upload and share resources with colleagues around the country is still not available. The website says that function is “coming soon.”

The delay in sharing the “share” function comes after Amazon had some trouble ensuring that materials uploaded to its site were all actually allowed to be there: Soon after Inspire launched in 2016, the New York Times reported that teachers found that the site contained materials that had been posted without authors’ permission and violated copyright. Amazon pulled those materials from its site. But in June 2017, the education news site EdSurge reported that the site remained in an invitation-only beta mode and questioned whether Amazon was truly invested in the project.

Sharing Soon

Amazon told EdSurge that the Share function will be online in a few weeks, and that it has new systems in place to ensure that materials posted on the site don’t infringe on copyright. EdSurge reported that an Amazon spokesperson said educators can report issues: “We take copyright infringement very seriously and have put proactive and reactive measures in place to also address this. We ask that educators only add resources that they’ve authored and have the rights to.”

In an FAQ, Amazon lays out which resources that will be booted from the site: pornography, offensive content, illegal content, or content that doesn’t work well (ie., a page full of broken links).

The site says it provides curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards for math and ELA, the Next Generation Science Standards, and Florida’s and Virginia’s state standards. Other states’ standards will be added over time.

Staying Open

In the wake of the announcement, some observers encouraged Amazon to stay true to the values of open educational resources.

Daniel Williamson, the managing director of Rice University’s OpenStax, which provides open educational resources to universities and some K-12 schools, said that the fact that large companies like Amazon are beginning to enter into the world of open educational resources means the field is “coming of age.” He said the search technology companies like Amazon and Google could bring to online instructional materials could be “amazing.”

But, he said, he hoped that Amazon would continue to offer its resources for free and ensure that the resources were high-quality and adaptable. Williamson said that open educational resources’ mission is “not just about lowering costs, though that’s a benefit. It’s about increasing access, increasing the freedoms afforded to faculty and teachers, and making sure that we’re creating an equitable playing field, not one that cuts out certain populations.”

Amazon has said it does not plan to create a system like its Amazon Prime, in which users pay for certain services, for Amazon Inspire. Last year, Andrew Joseph, the vice president of strategic relations for Education, told EdWeek Market Brief that “we’ve made a commitment that we will never charge for this.”

EdScoop reported that educators in Maryland and Indiana were optimistic that teachers would use Amazon’s familiar website to find lessons.

Teachers are already turning to the internet to find classroom materials. A study from the RAND Corporation last year found that almost all teachers are using some materials they’ve developed or selected for themselves—and that many teachers were turning to sites like Pinterest and Google to find materials.

EdWeek Market Brief wrote about the role of giant technology companies like Amazon in K-12 schools earlier this spring.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.