The world’s largest Open Educational Resources (OER) project featuring workforce development resources, SkillsCommons.Org, may have been a “best-kept secret,” but the secret is getting out.
At this year’s annual National Association of Workforce Boards Forum, a panel spoke about this online repository, which is home to materials produced by grantees of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program (TAACCCT). TAACCCT is a near-$2 billion federal workforce investment aimed at equipping community colleges to help adults learn skills that lead to family-supporting jobs.
TAACCCT grants have impacted 60 percent of the nation’s publicly funded community colleges, creating over 2,600 industry-aligned programs of study in manufacturing, health care, information technology, energy, transportation, and other sectors. With sustainability in mind, DOL required grantees to allow access for others to use, improve, and tailor project products by licensing materials produced with grant funds with a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).
Cheryl Martin, TAACCCT grants manager at DOL, was joined by Bruce Rankin, ambassador for SkillsCommons.org, and Mardy Leathers, director, Division of Workforce Development at the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The audience included representatives from local workforce boards around the country, including the states of Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.
How SkillsCommons Works: A Virtuous Feedback Loop
TAACCCT grantees can directly upload their materials to SkillsCommons, which currently has more than 12,000 products and over 800,000 downloads to date. Averaging 50,000-60,000 downloads/month, “it’s not such a secret anymore,” said Martin. The products include occupational-specific materials such as healthcare information technology or mechatronics technology coursework; developmental education materials such as digital literacy program materials that can be used to facilitate prisoner reentry; and program information such as memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between partners.
For quality assurance, grantees enlist a subject matter expert to vet the content of their material, and then upload the reviewed material onto SkillsCommons. “The subject matter expert could be someone that does an advanced manufacturing course at another college. That review is posted as a part of the curriculum,” said Martin.
As part of the participatory process of OER, Rankin encourages TAACCCT grantees to “reuse, adapt, and leverage” resources by downloading materials, adapting the materials to the users’ needs, and then uploading the adapted materials. The idea is that this iterative process creates a virtuous feedback loop. Rankin also encourages all users to reuse, revise, and remix the material to better serve the needs of different learners.
”Investments to Pay Dividends to Come”
Rankin said that SkillsCommons will help to ensure that a key legacy of TAACCCT will be “investments to pay dividends to come.” He noted that SkillsCommons has already been hearing about user success stories. Some recipients of other DOL workforce investment grants, such as TechHIRE and America’s Promise, “leveraged what was made by TAACCCT grantees and so didn’t have to recreate” materials. As a result, these grantees could put funds toward training that they otherwise would have had to put toward curriculum development.
Leathers shared a specific example from MoWINs, a TAACCCT-funded collaboration among 13 community colleges and local workforce development boards in Missouri. “TAACCCT helped to create an opportunity for workforce development boards and community colleges to fully engage and work together, like hand-in-glove, to help.”
As a first step, MoWINs created an MOU between the local workforce boards and community colleges for data sharing, in order to better track student outcomes. MoWINs made the example template of the MOU available on Skills Commons.
“There’s no better collaboration than to create OER,” commented Leathers. And an additional benefit is: “It’s faster to get on SkillsCommons than digging through my desktop.”
To learn more about the Open Educational Resources (OER) available on SkillsCommons.org, please watch the webinar, “Free Resources for Apprenticeship & Work-based Learning,” The webinar features TAACCCT grant project directors, and is moderated by representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education.