U.S. Department of Education Announces Final Regulation on Open Licensing Requirement for Competitive Grant Programs

This blog was originally published on the U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom Blog.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Benetech, one of our grantees, and observe some of the tools they have developed under their Department grant to help visually impaired people access the content of graphics in books. The tool has many applications, including giving visually impaired children the opportunity to better enjoy picture books and high school students better access to information in graphics and diagrams in science books. An interesting aspect of Benetech’s approach is that they share the descriptions with everyone wherever they may be in the world who can benefit from them. This is possible because they have voluntarily applied an open content license to all materials created through their DIAGRAM Center, and an open source license to their software.

“As a mission-focused nonprofit, we believe that openness and transparency are the best ways to accomplish our goals of equal access to education for special needs students,” said Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman. “This has made it easier to work cooperatively with other leading organizations because it was expressly established that the resulting content would be available to all on an equal basis through the open license.”

Student at McKinley Technology High School for Computer Science Education Week Event by US Department of Education licensed under CC-BY

Similarly, the Department’s First in the World (FITW) grant program has made available more than $135 million worth of innovations in higher education to the public through open licenses. For example, one grantee, College of America at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), created a learning platform and skill-building modules to provide academic assistance for underprepared adults re-entering higher education that any other interested institution will be able to freely use.

“We want the innovations and resources that we create with the Department’s funding to be available to our colleagues at other institutions so that they can use our work as a basis for their own innovations. This allows them to serve the unique needs of their own students better.” Paul Leblanc, President of SNHU.

Building on the work of these and other grantees who have led the way with open licenses, today we are announcing a rule that will significantly enhance dissemination of valuable educational resources and provide stakeholders with greater access to use, reuse, and modify these deliverables. We expect that this will yield great benefits for educators, students, and their education communities. The final regulation requires, with certain exceptions, that grantees receiving Department funds under a competitive grant program openly license copyrightable grant deliverables created with those funds.

When we first published our proposed open licensing rule in October 2015, Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. spoke of the promise of taking an open approach, “By requiring an open license, we will ensure that high-quality resources created through our public funds are shared with the public, thereby ensuring equal access for all teachers and students regardless of their location or background. We are excited to join other federal agencies leading on this work to ensure that we are part of the solution to helping classrooms transition to next generation materials.”

The rule we have announced today supports our commitment in the Third U.S. Open Government National Action Plan to expand access to educational resources through open licensing. In doing so, we join other federal agencies, including the Departments of Labor, State (including USAID), and the National Science Foundation, that currently administer programs with open licensing requirements.

Regarding the final regulations:

  1. The open licenses will give the public permission to use and reuse deliverables created in whole or in part with Department competitive grants funds provided by the Department.
  2. The requirement applies both to grant deliverables (e.g. teacher professional development training modules) and any final version of program support materials necessary to the use or reuse of the deliverables.
  3. Grantees or subgrantees will provide a dissemination plan and may select the open license appropriate to their grant deliverables.
  4. Based on feedback from public comments and input from other federal agencies, the Department has added certain categorical exceptions, such as for the Ready to Learn Television grant program.
  5. The Department will fully implement this rule for all applicable competitive grant programs in FY 2018.

The final regulation can be found here: https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/ED-Open-Licensing-Rule-1.11.17-Public.pdf

I am pleased that many more instructors and students will be able to access learning resources paid for with public funds. By sharing our work openly with each other, we can all benefit.


Joseph South is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.