In the same way as many other industries, education has begun to fully embrace the digital movement. Educational technology, or “EdTech,” not only allows teachers to create more innovative classes, it’s giving students everywhere much easier access to the educational materials they need.
Up until now, the giants in EdTech have included Apple, Google, and Microsoft, which collectively sold 10.8 million devices to primary and secondary schools last year. But software is becoming more important than hardware in digital learning, and the latest company to employ this idea is Amazon, with its new platform “Amazon Inspire.”
Amazon Inspire is a marketplace of free resources for teachers and educational institutions. This new platform, released in beta on June 27, enables teachers to drive Amazon’s “commitment to making digital classrooms a reality” by augmenting its already impressive catalog of resources. When educators sign up, they can upload, download, and edit digital educational materials for the classroom such as lesson plans, teaching modules, and worksheets.
With this new service, Amazon hopes to push the use of technology in all types of K-12 educational institutions, regardless of zip code or grade level. So what will this mean for the future of education?
In October 2015, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new initiative called “#GoOpen.” The goal was to promote an open education ecosystem, which runs on the exchange of openly licensed educational resources (OER). These resources can be modified and shared without cost and without violating copyright laws, offering equal educational opportunities to all students.
Amazon Inspire closely follows this campaign, as well as sites that already provide a similar service. For example, AcademicEarth offers free online college courses from renowned universities like Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. OER Commons is another extensive digital library where teachers can upload and collaborate on lesson plans and courses. Like these, Amazon wants to help transform learning by allowing teachers to share and discover great materials – but even more easily.
According to Rohit Agarwal, General Manager of Amazon K-12 Education, teachers spend 12 hours a week or more curating learning materials. Inspire’s open access approach means that teachers no longer have to battle time and budget constraints to provide their students with high-quality content.
“With Amazon Inspire, we aim to quickly and easily put the best and most trusted digital resources at teachers’ fingertips,” Agarwal said, “saving them valuable time that can be devoted to what they do best and enjoy most – teaching.”
This is, of course, how it should be for public schools, homeschool programs, and other educational institutions with limited resources. Using Inspire, teachers can refine search results – by grade, subjects, or content format, for example – to find exactly what they need, much like on Amazon.com. Amazon has collaborated not only with organizations like Folger Shakespeare Library and the U.S. Department of Education, but also with individual teachers and school districts to provide over 2,000 pieces of content. Essentially, the platform collects everything a teacher needs in one place, expending little time and no cost.
Of course, Amazon is competing with OER platforms – AcademicEarth and OER Commons being only two of many – that have been around for several years. Although Amazon Inspire offers similar services, the platform has its limitations in terms of availability.
For one, Inspire is only available to educators and not to the general public. Teachers and institutions can request early access to the beta platform by filling out a form online, giving them seemingly unlimited access to thousands of resources curated especially for K-12 classrooms. However, schools that contribute content to the platform can restrict who has access to their contributions. Inspire will also only be available in the U.S., so Amazon won’t be providing content to teachers worldwide as some of its competitors do.
So, for now, Inspire is fairly exclusive. Yet the platform promises to be the largest of its kind and, built by the world’s leading e-commerce company, that’s hardly surprising. Inspire also aims to differentiate itself with compelling technology like its optimized search feature. This might make the platform more attractive to users of Amazon’s flagship site, as they’ll be familiar with the intuitive interface. Moreover, Amazon assures that there will never be costs or fees involved.
Right now, Amazon is enrolling teachers onto the platform by invitation-only. There is no concrete date for open access, but those invited to test the Inspire beta will be notified when the service launches general availability.
Amazon is actively encouraging feedback from users, so only time will tell whether the service continues to limit access. But as more teachers shift from physical textbooks to digital systems, they’ll need more places to source learning materials online – and Amazon Inspire could eventually be a one-stop shop for all educational needs.
According to the Consortium for School Networking’s fourth K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report, free content is now expected by 45 percent of IT leaders. So now is the perfect time for Amazon to meet the rapidly growing market for OER. For students, Inspire could mean an enhanced education, fueled by personalized, timely content. For the teaching community, Inspire’s OER marketplace empowers everyone to support the future of digital learning, and, more importantly, the concept that everyone deserves access to world-class education.