Amazon is betting that simplicity and familiarity will win educators and schools with its new offering: Amazon recently announced Amazon Inspire, a free service for the search, discovery and distribution of digital educational resources. Amazon Inspire is in beta and is ready for teachers to use and provide feedback to help shape the evolution of this innovative service to best serve their needs.
Amazon’s goal is to provide educators with the largest selection of free and open educational resources to improve instruction and student learning outcomes. To that end it is working with states, school districts and contributing publishers to build its resource collection. Early adopter states – Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont – early adopter school districts, including Avonworth School District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cajon Valley Union School District, El Cajon, California; Liberty Public Schools, Missouri; Metro Nashville Public Schools; Tullahoma City Schools, Tennessee; and Virginia Beach City Public Schools are committed to openly sharing their original and curated digital educational resources. Publishers such as the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Newseum, EdLeader21 and the Buck Institute for Education are also contributing resources.
Amazon Inspire includes smart search that allows teachers to filter search results using more than 10 criteria to find resources that best fit their needs. Sharing resources is easy. Teachers can drag and drop files they want to share, add basic metadata such as title, description, grade and subject, and publish the content on the service, all in a few minutes. Teachers can also rate and review resources on Amazon Inspire, helping other teachers to find the best resources for their needs.
Volume is going to be key here. It’s not like there were not already a number of OER content repositories. The first step will be will be getting enough high-quality resources in place to attract users. The collection of resources will need to be broad and deep if it is to meet the needs of teachers ranging from kindergarten to grade 12 across all subject areas. Then enough teachers have to come and keep coming back to build up a buzz and develop a user community. The trick will be keeping teachers engaged and active. Just giving a resource three stars isn’t much help; a review of strengths and weaknesses or a recounting of how the resource worked in the classroom is much more valuable.
I have no doubt that Amazon can handle the infrastructure of this project – robust searching, a clean and easy-to-use interface, reliable access and networking support. But it’s also important that metatags be applied consistently, that there is some type of quality control in place for new submissions, that incentives are in place to encourage top-flight reviewing. Continuing effort will have to be devoted to seeking out the curriculum products being developed by school districts across the country. It’s this type of resource that is typically “hidden,” shared locally but not much farther. If Amazon Inspire truly evolves into a one-stop shop for high quality OER, curriculum developers will be eager to put their resources into the collection, Until then, the care and feeding of any great collection is a big job.