New initiative targets accessible open resources

A new partnership expands OER opportunities for higher education.

Postsecondary educators report growing challenges to implementing open educational resources (OERs), the most problematic being time loss spent combing multiple sources for supplemental educational material.

In response these mounting concerns, Pearson has teamed with Silicon Valley nonprofit Gooru, a search engine for learning materials, to create Project Blue Sky, a cloud-based content service that makes OERs more accessible. The partnership combines resources from both companies.

“Project Blue Sky is a service that enables academics to search for and curate OER material in a single place and combine it with Pearson content to create new or augmented works,” said Don Kilburn, CEO of Pearson. “It’s a marriage between OER and commercially-available content.”

Anticipated to launch in spring 2013, Project Blue Sky is in a pilot phase among psychology faculty at various colleges and universities. Those faculty members are reviewing the prototype and designing eTexbooks to use in their courses. A program preview available on Pearson’s website illustrates how users can simplify search results by selecting their desired OER format.

“Project Blue Sky has the potential for improving open educational resources in higher education by providing a platform from which the process of assembling student materials from a variety of sources can start,” said Katrina D’Aquin, assistant vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of psychology at Bethany College.

“The searchable databases, as well as the easy integration of one’s own sources found elsewhere on the web, allow instructors to design a ‘text’ that is targeted to their students, their class and their course goals.”

Bethany College is one of 13 community colleges and universities participating in Project Blue Sky’s pilot group. The entire group includes educators from:

  •  Northwest Mississippi Community College (Senatobia, Miss.)
  •  Hiram College (Hiram, Ohio)
  •  Bethany College (Bethany, W.Va.)
  •  Del Mar College (Corpus Christi, Texas)
  •  Oregon Institute of Technology (Klamath Falls, Ore.)
  •  Community College of Denver (Denver, Colo.)
  •  Tennessee State University (Nashville, Tenn.)
  •  Thiel College (Greenville, Pa.)
  •  American River College (Sacramento, Calif.)
  •  Dominican College (Orangeburg, N.Y.)
  •  Hampden-Sydney College (Farmville, Va.)
  •  National University (San Bernardino, Calif.)
  •  Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Mich.)

“As an educator, I am constantly seeking out effective course materials, and I usually have resources in many places that are easily lost,” said Sarah Strout, department coordinator and assistant professor of psychology at Dominican College. “The potential of the Blue Sky platform is enormous because it will give me control over the course materials and save me much time spent frantically searching and vetting OER content on the web. I can pull information from lots of sources and compile all my materials in one spot.”

Project Blue Sky also supports the movement towards eLearning. The program plans to use video, simulations, and various computer programs to elevate digitalized course work.

“Students and faculty are increasingly relying on digital learning resources and would like to spend more time learning rather than sorting through millions of videos and websites for a given topic,” said Prasad Ram, CEO of Gooru. “The integration of content from Pearson and high-quality web resources from Gooru in a single platform provides immediate access to the most appropriate learning resources for Pearson users.”

Expediency, it appears, is the key to alleviating barriers associated with OER. Will Project Blue Sky offer much-needed relief to educators?

“I feel hopefully optimistic that Project Blue Sky will be a step toward creating affordable, interactive learning materials for students,” said D’Aquin. “I am really enjoying the fact that I can integrate web resources, including my own materials for the course, alongside content that is provided through the platform. I think that this will reinforce student learning, as well as make the material presented to students more accessible.”

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