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Remarks by Bill and Sharon from the Policy Jam facilitated by OSTP, GSA, and AU

Good afternoon. My name is Sharon Leu and I lead the team at the Department of Labor that oversees the administration of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program. It’s a long name, so we refer to it as TACT for short.

TACT is one of many Federally funded training programs within the Department of Labor, but at approximately $2 billion, is the single largest Federal investment in the Community College system and is a top priority for the Department of Labor, our partners at the Department of Education, and an important component of the President’s Skills Agenda.

Today I’m going to talk about one of the innovations of our grant program that we are particularly excited about – open licensing and the surprising creation of the world’s largest collection of Open Educational Resources, or OER.

I’ll begin with a quick overview of the grant program and then talk briefly about the what/why/how of implementing open licenses at DOL.

So a very quick overview of the grant program:

TACT provides community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher education with funds to expand and improve their ability to deliver education and career training programs that can be completed in two years or less and prepare program participants for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations. These programs address the needs trade affected workers and other unemployed adults by placing them in the types of training that allow them to gain the skills that businesses and other employers need.

TACT funds allow colleges to improve their entire education delivery infrastructure from purchasing or upgrading equipment to developing new credentials to creating new courses to redesigning whole new programs.

The Department has awarded approximately $500 million each fiscal year beginning in FY 2011. That will total approximately $2 billion with this final FY 2014 competition; with projects ranging from about $2.5 million to $20 million.

In the first three rounds, over 800 institutions of higher education have received TACT funds either individually or as partners in larger projects. For context, the Department of Education reports that there are approximately 1,100 2 year institutions in the US.

Although the projects are diverse in industry focus and approach, what each of these 800 institutions has in common is that they are developing and improving courses and programs. They have created new content, digital training modules, instructional games, 3-D simulations, professional development materials, evaluation tools, and next gen assessments.

And all of these products will be licensed to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution license.

First question: what does that mean?

The Creative Commons Attribution License or CC BY is a globally recognized standard that gives the public broad permission for use and reuse, as long as credit is given to the original creator.

This means that all of the new materials produced by these 800 colleges will become OER or Open Educational Resources, that are free and open to the public for use and reuse, adaptation and improvement, as long as credit is given to the college that first created the content, and to DOL as the funding source.

Second question: why did we do this?

We did this because open licensing increases the impact of our investment and helps us to be more strategic with our future investments.

From a public policy perspective, the Department is a better steward of public funds by giving the public access to those things created using public funds, and ensuring that these products have as wide spread a use as possible.

With TACT, DOL makes an award to an institution to produce OER under the CC BY license. These products are now freely useable by anyone in the public, at any time, and will continue to be used and re-used, long after the grant ends.

TACT is a really big investment. But we expect that OER will allow the impact to be even greater than just the 800 colleges with new curricula and equipment that we directly funded. OER enables more colleges to benefit indirectly by our grant. And the more colleges that benefit, the more individual participants that we can serve and train and help find jobs.

Let me give you an example.

We have said that when educational institutions around the country and even around the world use the OER created by TACT grantees, they can greatly reduce the cost of program development when they adapt and remix open content rather than duplicating efforts to recreate their own.

Now, because of the good work of a grantee in California, any institution interested in a creating an LVN (licensed vocational nurse) to RN transition course can reuse the curriculum and content and digital practice labs that were developed using grant funds, for free, instead of spending additional resources to re-create the same.

At the same time, OER created by TACT grants could lead to savings for students by reducing the cost of learning materials, textbooks, and other resources that are required or recommended for the courses they take. This is especially important if we are trying to re-train unemployed workers who have limited resources. Using the same example of our California grantee, students enrolled in that LVN-RN course are now saving over $300 by using OER texts and materials, for that one class alone.

With 800 institutions producing content, TACT has inadvertently created the world’s largest collection of OER, the benefits of which we have yet to fully realize.

And how does creating publicly accessible, adaptable, resources benefit DOL? Like many agencies, our resources are limited, so we are interested in leveraging our investments as much as we can. Creating a full and open course means that other organizations can use it in their education and training programs. This, in turn, helps us maximize our future investments in content areas where there may not yet be publicly accessible content.

Final question: How were we able make such a departure from the standard intellectual property policy of our agency?

Two part answer.

First part, we started small. TACT was actually not the first open policy at DOL. Under the Recovery Act, DOL awarded a much smaller grant for the development of a Healthcare Virtual Career Platform, where both the platform itself and the source code were made open. This allowed the extension of this platform well beyond the grant-funded scope and eliminated the legal and logistical work involved in product distribution.

In anticipating the large volume of products and the associated problem of product dissemination under TACT, DOL solicitors were open to following the precedent established by the open platform and required that TACT products be disseminated by grantees themselves, using the open license.

The attention caused by TACT is continuing to drive open policy within DOL. There are now three active grant programs that will require CC BY licensing. Moving forward, we are working to expand this as a requirement for additional discretionary grants awarded by ETA.

The second part of this is that we have extremely supportive partners. We first were encouraged to look at Open Government objectives by our Federal partners at the Departments of Education, Defense, and OSTP who worked with us to understand the legal and policy issues, and who shared with us best practices and lessons learned from their experiences.

We have also had constant support from Creative Commons, who helped us to see a vision for the broader impact that our open policy could have. Creative Commons is also playing an important ongoing role in the implementation of the open policy by providing technical assistance to our grantees and coaching educators on the creation and use of OER.

Let me conclude with an important note. You may be wondering how prospective applicants have viewed this requirement. The honest answer is that we don’t know. We do know that our grantees are learning with us about the importance of OER. And whether out of duty to comply with grant requirements or out of enthusiasm, they have eagerly pursued technical assistance and are active participants in OER user communities.

We would love to share any information that could be useful or interesting to you as you pursue these in your respective agencies.

Thank you.

Thank you, [NAME OF PERSON INTRODUCING]. And a special thanks to the all the folks at OSTP and other agencies who helped pull this together.

I'm Bill Shelton and I work in the Technology & Innovation arm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. My primary responsibility is enabling and leading software developers to build products that help American Consumers and our colleagues in the Bureau realize our collective mission.

I'm going to talk briefly about open source software, licensing, open data, and why these are good things. I'm a software engineer by trade, and if it were not for the principles behind open source, I doubt I would be where I am today. In many ways, I feel a debt of gratitude and deep connection with the many people who contributed to open source products like Linux, C/C++, Java, Apache, and countless others; and who gave freely of their time to answer my novice questions to help me learn and grow. This was my path of professional development; and it continues to be a viable path today.

Back to the CFPB ...

What's unique about our software and data product strategies is that what we build is largely built in-house rather than procured. We've staffed our Design and Development teams with people passionate about their craft and about public service. When it comes to custom software, most of our procurement is contracting people to "help us" build our products rather than build our products "for us". In other words, we are very high-touch with our software products. This affords us a high degree of quality control and significant flexibility with respect to licensing and copyright issues.

By way of example, we released two interesting software products this year: the eRegulations Platform, and the HMDA (or Home Mortgage Disclosure Act) web application, data, and data platform.

The eRegulations platform achieves the vision of open-data by making large and complex regulations like Reg Z/Truth in Lending, easily navigable and usable by anyone with a web browser; and it provides regulations in a machine-readable format via an API. HMDA achieves the same vision by making over 100 million rows of mortgage records easily accessible to the general public, and it also makes that data available in machine-readable formats via an API. This model of user-centric design and API engineering is both explicit and intentional, and a model we'll continue to use in future software and data products.

The licensing of these products are the same. The data itself is in the public domain, and the source code for all of the custom software pieces is open and designated as "Creative Commons Public Domain" with "No rights reserved", or simply CC0. Early on, we would just say that it was "public domain", but after much internal and public discussion, we felt CC0 was the best classification that implements our official source code policy. Our policy is great and empowers us to share our work products publicly and to accept contributions with reduced risk. We were able to execute this policy through old fashioned collaboration with key people from the DoD, the open source community, and internal policy makers and stakeholders.

All of our public source code is shared openly on GitHub.com. And we've realized a number of significant benefits because of this openness. A few of these are:

  • Licensing and copyright are clear and crisp for each of our public products
  • We've received a number of accolades from the press and public, which has helped to build public trust and further our mission
  • We've attracted great technical talent. Most of our developers and designers decided to work with us simply because we actively demonstrate openness and transparency

But we are just beginning—All of us. There's a tremendous amount of unrealized potential. Open government cracks a window to make us transparent and accountable. This is great. But I think we're ready to take this further. I believe we can open our doors and invite the public in and encourage active participation. We can leverage technology and policy to improve government through direct public collaboration. This is a significant paradigm shift, but also very powerful. The challenge, then, is to define what the policy and technical strategies look like for this vision.

Please grab me if you want to chat about this further.

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