Open Courseware

Trying to get back on track for my novice badge, this post is for the Open Courseware topic.

I have known about MIT’s Open Courseware site for the longest time, but never really took a hard look at why the initiative worked, and is still going strong a decade later. It’s very interesting to see the actual press conference that launched the effort, and to understand how spot on the predictions of the panelists came to life over time. Below are some reflections based on the factors at play in successfully deploying open courseware.

1) Faculty buy-in

The MIT initiative came from the faculty. As a group, MIT professors share common values, such as creating knowledge not only for the lucky few who make it to campus, but for the world.

Abelson referred to the OCW effort as a publication venture, not a distance learning effort. It is a repository of raw materials that do not take anything away from the real MIT experience, as mentioned multiple times during the video.

2) Institutional buy-in

Many faculty publish their learning materials online on their own. It is their right, and many find value in the process. What MIT has done is not only to support faculty willing to do this, but providing incentives and resources to make it be a part of the fabric of MIT.

Beyond “putting stuff online”, MIT has willingly opened up their curriculum to help MIT current or prospective students, faculty, and the whole world get a better understanding of teaching and learning methods. Being this open may seem like exposing yourself, showing vulnerability, but this openness also comes with scrutiny from external reviewers and a commitment to make the MIT experience even better.

3) Scalability and sustainability

This is a very important point that was brought up by Lerman. What is the effective way to get high quality materials available in an economically effective way? Those two objectives might be in opposition to one another, but this is the holy grail.

The fact that many institutions worldwide have joined the OCW Consortium is actually an indicator that those two objectives can be achieved through a concerted yet voluntary distributed effort of like-minded institutions, adopting standards and publishing open learning content online.

4) Adaptation over adoption

Vest described that MIT did not expect any competing institution to offer MIT’s classes. What is expected of the MIT content is to be adapted, not adopted as is. Educators must have the freedom to create a sequence of learning materials that fits their needs and teaching styles, so using chunks of MIT content can serve that purpose. Since the content is licensed using Creative Commons, it is possible for anyone, including competitors, to use the materials.

Realistically, I would not see a Cal Tech course. for instance, relying exclusively on MIT materials. This would dilute their own brand, and promote a competitor. But other lesser-known institutions could see this as an opportunity to expand their own course offerings to areas they lack experts in.

Branding, in many ways, in a big problem. As much as possible, you would like to get the content in a brand-agnostic format so you can make it your own, but I guess this is the price to pay for free materials. But branding also plays a role in determining the perceived quality of the materials in comparison with self-published ones hosted in other repositories such as Merlot and Connexions.

5) Aggregation and analytics

The next logical step to great content is to assemble it in ways that are attractive to end-users. MIT and Flat World Knowledge just announced a partnership to mashup open textbooks and multimedia content from the MIT OCW. Just like in the open source world, open courseware will benefit from the contribution of commercial affiliates who develop economically sound solutions.

The example from the Open High School of Utah pushes the concept a step further by combining the content with the learning context, using a self-paced student-centered philosophy, and adding just-in-time support using learning analytics. All of a sudden, learners can learn at their own pace and get support when they are stuck, providing a much more flexible way of learning and progressing through the curriculum.


2 thoughts on “Open Courseware

  1. Pingback: Open Courseware | Open Reflections | Open Courseware Initiatives |

  2. Pingback: Claiming my novice badge for #ioe12 | Open Reflections

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