From the Editor

Google Expeditions, Amazon Inspire

I don't remember the last time I saw so many announcements come out of the annual ISTE conference.  There were a lot of new companies and organizations represented and I've tried to cast as broad a net as possible, but know I've missed things. I've posted some things only to the web site - mostly things not related to new/updated products and services, so this would be a good week to just click through to the web site, where you will be able to see everything, along with a brief summary that should help you decide if you want to dive deeper.

Both Google and Amazon got a lot of attention. Google has bene courting the school market for some time now, both with Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom. Since Classroom's launch in August 2014, Google has released more than 50 updates. Some of these updates add a minor feature, but others have made Classroom more useful and efficient in school settings such as the Classroom API that allows administrators to provision and manage classes at scale, and lets developers integrate their applications with Classroom. Google has attracted numerous partners who have integrated their products with Google Apps for Education and publishers and developers, including Alma, Gale, Knovation, Nearpod, Sycamore Education, and Whooo's Reading have announced integration with Classroom.

At ISTE, Google's big news was making Google Expeditions available to everyone. Google Expeditions is an immersive experience that allows teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips using Google Cardboard viewers and virtual reality content accessible through mobile phones or tablets. Google launched a pilot - the Expeditions Pioneer Program - last September. Since that time, the company says that more than a million students from 11 countries have taken one of its 200 virtual reality trips. As of today all teachers will be able to download the Expedition app to the set of devices they plan to use and choose the VR experience they want to use. The app is currently available for Android and Google says it will be available for iPhones and iPads soon.

Already companies are announcing collaborations with Google to support or expand the Expeditions' VR experience.  Pearson plans to have its first set of Google Expeditions ready for back-to-school 2016. ISTE attendees could get a sneak peek of Pearson's VR content by taking a 3D tour of the London Transport Museum including voice-activated "hot spots" in the tour when they wanted to go deeper or change direction. zSpace will work with Google to create an end-to-end virtual reality classroom experience that combines zSpace's interactive Screen VR technology with Google Expeditions, Students will be introduced to learning content through the Expeditions followed by in-depth exploration opportunities in zSpace. TES and Google are working together to make it easier for teachers to access and share digital resources, and create lessons to accompany virtual reality field trips using Google Expeditions. Tes.com is home to the world's largest online community of teachers, with over 8 million registered users, downloading 1 million classroom resources every day across its global marketplace. A new Google portal on Tes.com will house lessons showing how to use Google Expeditions field trips in the classroom, Google's training center, and featured teachers who are sharing their lessons.

It's the simplicity of this solution that holds great appeal. The VR experience does not equal that of more high-tech immersive technologies like Oculus, but Expeditions work with devices widely available in the schools along with Google Cardboard viewers. It's not intimidating, there is a good supply of content (and one that is likely to continue to grow) and it's relatively inexpensive to implement. Google has focused on keeping things simple and gained a lot of teacher buy-in as a result. It's actively supporting its solutions and its users and there's the undeniable appeal of free or mostly free. The combination seems to be working.

Amazon is betting that simplicity and familiarity will also win users for its new offering. Amazon announced Amazon Inspire, a free service for the search, discovery and distribution of digital educational resources at ISTE. 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.

 

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