When I reported on Scribd reining in the unlimited aspect of its ebook subscription service yesterday, I suggested that Amazon's next focus would be on education.
Earlier this week EdWeek reported on a new website from Amazon which will let educators share curricula with other teachers:
Amazon Education is working on a new platform that will allow schools to upload, manage, share, and discover open education resources from a home page that in some ways resembles the one shoppers are accustomed to accessing on the massive online retailer’s website.
School administrators learned about the site, to be called Amazon Inspire, during a “Transitioning to OER” session Friday as part of the National Conference on Education of the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, held here.
The new platform is in beta testing now, and is scheduled to be released publicly within the next two to three months, according to Andrew Joseph, vice president of strategic relations for Amazon Education.
Asked by one superintendent about the company’s financial interest in the effort, Joseph said, “Amazon is a big commercial entity and we have to make this sustainable over time. This piece we have committed to making absolutely free forever. We’re not going to lock the content up. We promised we won’t put a pay wall in front of it.”
While Joseph said the company has not decided exactly how it will achieve financial sustainability for Amazon Inspire, he said it could be in connecting users to books they might want to buy to go with a unit on Shakespeare, for instance, or in using Amazon’s capabilities in self-publishing books. “We don’t know exactly what it looks like … but we believe we have all these other paths down the road,” he said.
Most news coverage of digital textbooks is focused on publishers and tech companies, so it is easy to forget that a lot of curricula is developed by teachers for their own use. Ranging from worksheets to lecture notes to study guides, this content is rarely shared more broadly than on the department level (or, in rare cases, across a school district).
Amazon wants to change that.
We don't know how this site will integrate with Kindle Textbook Creator, Amazon's textbook-making tool.
Edit: Audrey Watters has posted a longer list of what we don't know, and it's worth repeating:
The platform’s in beta, and we know its name – Amazon Inspire – but little more. We don’t know what the business model will be. (Neither does Amazon, by EdWeek’s account, although Amazon Education’s vice president of strategic relations Andrew Joseph promises it’ll always be free. Mmmhmmm.) We don’t know what the interface will look like or how usable it will actually be (and I think those who've used Amazon Fire will concur: the company does not excel at UX. It's also failed repeatedly when it comes to accessibility issues). We don’t know what format the OER will be available in (for composing, publishing, or remixing). We don’t know if content will be interoperable – that is, usable beyond the Amazon (Kindle) ecosystem – or if there’ll be integration with other software systems. We don’t know what data Amazon will glean from the resources posted there – it does say that materials will be tagged with Learning Registry metadata – and we don’t know what Amazon will do with that data. We don’t know how the licensing will work.
All we know is that EdWeek Amazon Inspire will let educators self-publish material they have developed, curate open resources, add ratings and reviews, and receive recommendations based on their previous selections.
Ideally this will save teachers both time and money. They won't have to develop curricula on their own, and they won't have to buy so much from educational companies.
This is not the first site to act as a repository for OER; California has a state-wide repository, and OERCommons.org is very similar in concept to Amazon Inspire. (And a lot of universities have their own institutional repositories, although those are considerably less open than Amazon Inspire.)
But one librarian I spoke to told me that Amazon Inspire seemed broader in scope than sharing sites she had seen, and that's not the only difference.
Since Amazon Inspire is owned by Amazon, it is going to get a lot of press coverage when it launches. More attention equals more users, and that will result in more curricula being shared between educators and more money being saved for other uses.
Frankly, this is what Apple should have launched alongside iBooks Author. Amazon Inspire is going to be the disruptive innovation that Apple could have used as a way to save schools money on textbooks (which could then be spent on iPads - what Apple really wanted).
But hey, better four years late than never.
image by blair_25