OpenFiction [ Blog ]

June 12, 2008

OCW survey responses

Filed under: , , , — Stephen Carson @ 2:25 pm

One of the absolute joys and privileges of my job here at OCW is getting the unfiltered e-mail and survey feedback. Here’s just a sampling of responses from our currently running survey describing the site’s impact:

“This site is like a dream coming true … Being a working mother from a developing country with no financial capabilities to have a respectful graduate study… I think this a site is like a gift I have been blessed with.. It’s something that Allah should be thanked for.. Thank you MIT Thank you… May you be blessed…”

“This site has played an incredibly large role in helping me understand the material in my physics class. It definitely helped my grade in my physics class last quarter. The lectures also helped make the material interesting more than any aspect of my physics class at school did.”

“Your program is amazing for someone like myself who would rather learn at my own pace. I can also read over the course descriptions and use the information relevant to my field of work. MIT Opencourseware is the future of learning for the betterment of mankind.”

“This site has had a great impact on my educational situation because I have been able to learn a tremendous amount about topics I am personally interested in. I am a frequent user of the business section (Sloan) because I am trying to supplement my engineer degrees with business context. I love the website soo much I have set it as my IE homepage. It’s been my homepage for the past 11 months.”

“This site has had a huge impact on my educational career. I have attended San Francisco City College over the last four years, and watching the mathematics and science courses posted on this website gave me the confidence that I could succeed in an elite physics program. I will begin upper division study of physics at Columbia this fall, and I plan on using this site to augment my math and physics education from City. Thank you so much!”

“A dream, it is the best definition. I have been studying almost all my life with few resourse centers. I am Brazilian, and I studied in Faculty far from big cities therefor far from good libraries and bookshops too. I feel almost in paradise here.”

“The OCW site has been influential in my decision to return to college after an absence of over 10 years. The quality of the course materials and the caliber of instruction is a tribute to MIT. I have used the site to prepare myself for courses that planned to take at my own university. I have also discovered that in most cases the knowledge I have gained through MIT’s OCW is both more substantial and applicable from that presented in my “real” classes. As a non traditional student, and someone who would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn at an institution like MIT, I am immeasurably grateful this website exists.”

June 3, 2008


Filed under: , , , , , , — Stephen Carson @ 8:19 am

I’ve really been enjoying the Edupunk buzz, especially this recent post by Mike Caulfield (read past Iggy). Edupunk, though, is going to be quite limited if it allows itself to be defined as anti-anything, especially LMSs of all things. While Caulfield includes a lot of the negative, he does a good job of presenting the positive as well:

These Web 2.0 tools they adopted encouraged them to share their stuff with the world, instead of locking it away in a password protected course. And suddenly, they got a taste of open education. And it didn’t stop there. The tools they adopted had a true web DNA, and played well with other tools in a loosely coupled mode. So suddenly, they got a taste of what it was like to build your own custom learning environment.

And so on. They started to experience the creativity that the web can unleash, and experienced for the first time that connectivist thrill people had been going on about.

And it was then, with their courses out on the net for all to see, having developed Wordpress pages that mashed together video with slideshares with twitter updates and feeds, having witnessed students commenting on posts right next to people from across the world, having seen authors of books responding to their student’s reader response essays, directly —

It was then that it hit these people. Blackboard was never a learning tool.

And while I make no claims to the Edupunk mantle, the Edupunk vision is very consistent with my own views on and experiences with LMSs and Web 2.0 tools:

The whole idea that learning can be “managed” from a central system may even seem to be a strange notion in ten years. Instead of centrally creating a secure digital learning space for teachers and students, as we do now, the default may be that students and teachers come together in self-organizing digital spaces of their own design, where the various elements of the participants’ digital personas (blogs, vlogs, wikis, websites, facebooks, fileshares and linklists) come together via aggregation tools of their choosing. In as much as the physical classroom depends on the unique contributions of both the teacher and the students to produce the character of the learning experience, so too the digital learning experience may utlimately depend greatly on the ways in which the students project themselve into cyberspace, and the walls of an LMS may be a barrier to this.

The elements of current LMS that I found to be of most use were basically the administrative tools, and those might eventually atrophy to be the only elements that remain, if at all, as small parts of school’s student information systems. Even these are not that hard to replecate externally, with the exception of direct links to enrollment lists in administrative systems and the reporting back of grades–—though who knows, a secure RSS feed might allow even that to happen in multiple environments.

So how does this affect opencourseware publication? I’d suggest in two ways. Because it ultimately points to a situation in which learning becomes a less digitally stable undertaking—–something more fluid, with learning experiences created and dismantled rapidly and outside of any central control—–opencourseware publication can serve as an organizing principle around which learning experiences can be documented. The process of gathering materials and publishing a “snapshot” of the materials can provide a stable point of reference for future learning experiences.

Second (and this again is an idea that draws on Stephen Downes’ thinking), opencourseware may become less about providing reusable and repurposable materials that are then somehow “localized” by others, and more about providing a fertile soil for future learning experiences as old materials decompose. In trying to imagine how I might use opencourseware content in my future teaching, it seems to me if I know of a resource reasonably close to my own needs that exists at a stable URL, I would likely point to it in a blog post and provide any necessary annotation for my class in the post, rather than try to download it and edit it directly.

May 15, 2008

Asking the hard questions

Filed under: , , , , , — Stephen Carson @ 11:42 am

I also want to circle back and note the recent post by George Siemens on the Connectivism Blog, which is asking hard questions about the OER movement. Hard questions are always in order, and George is asking some great ones. I thought I’d try and answer from my personal perspective–that is neither as a representative of MIT OpenCourseWare nor as a representative of the OpenCourseWare Consortium. That being said, I’m going to address the questions from an OCW perspective, as OER is just to broad a field to speak for sensibly (which I think is one underlying weakness in some of George’s comments, which generalize across a wide range of different projects with wildly different goals). So, the hard questions:

1) Why OERs? What are we trying to achieve? The simplest possible formulation I can give is “To provide resources that increase the quantity and quality of informal and formal learning opportunities worldwide.” I was in a meeting a while back where Tim Berners-Lee said something akin to “80% of the value of the web is in the unanticipated uses people make of the content that’s available.” Within certain limits, the advantage of the web is that I don’t have to decide if I’m serving the developed or the developing world, independent or formal learners, teachers or students, etc. OCWs provide informal learning opportunities directly (in varying levels of quality depending on user needs) and are resources that allow educators to improve formal learning opportunities. The evaluation done around MIT OpenCourseWare demonstrates both cases occurring across a wide range of global audiences.

At least within the narrow confines of a simple OCW model, the anticipated audience for the educational materials is the students taking the class for which the materials were created. The open publication comes after. There are certainly decisions that might be made about how to publish those materials openly based on the anticipated audience for the open publication, but this is a distinctly different question than who the materials were created for originally. OCW publish materials designed for very local contexts, to permit a range of anticipated and unanticipated uses of those materials in other contexts, but the materials themselves are not designed for any external context. (Some OCWs, such as UC Irvine, are the exception that proves the rule.) The big challenge is to understand the uses better, and see how the open publication might be modified to better support these uses.

2) OERs are window dressing if systems and structures of education do not change. Okay a view, not a question. I think “window dressing” is a bit harsh, but OCW at least is primarily a window into systems and structures at institutions rather than a fundamental change to those systems and structures. I’m not sure ultimately its fair to task the OER movement with changing the systems and structures of global education, though of course many within the movement hope it actually will. It’s not clear that the structures and systems have to change for OER to be on balance beneficial to learners and educators.

On the other hand, transparency has proven to be a powerfully transformative force, one that has led to the decline of many entrenched systems. The transparency provided by OCW can allow for the rapid transfer and dissemination of educational innovation already occurring within systems. If, in the context of a very localized educational experience at MIT, a professor develops an innovative approach, and then publishes it openly, it becomes instantly (or nearly so, anyway) available to anyone else who might be struggling with a similar problem. It doesn’t mean it ought to be adopted as the gold standard in all situations, just that for those who do see an advantage in the approach, they have the opportunity to benefit from it. I’d argue there are equally powerful transparency effects at work within the institutions that publish their materials.

3) OERs exhibit (are embedded with) certain ideologies/views/pedagogies, etc. Again a view not a question. George presents this as a problem, where I see opportunity. I dare you to find any educational material that doesn’t exhibit (or is not embedded with) certain ideologies/views/pedagogies. The difference between textbooks and OERs is that only the rich developed countries can produce textbooks. While access to modes of production for OERs are not completely level between developed and developing countries, they are at the very least radically more balanced. This means the ideologies/views/pedagogies of the developing world will be able to compete more equally in the marketplace of ideas than before.

Despite Geopre’s “cute kitten” analogy to describe (I’m assuming) the current interest in OER in North America, the OpenCourseWare movement has developed much more robustly outside of North America, with significant blocks of institutions beginning to share content in other developed regions including Europe, South Korea and Japan—but also in China, Latin America, Turkey, Vietnam and India. This has happened in part, I think, because these regions see the opportunity to have their voices heard, to share their knowledge. It’s only lately that North America is taking notice. The OCW Consortium members have collectively published about 6,200 courses, and it’s a fair bet that at least half are from outside North America.

I really applaud George’s call for more research, although more has been done than I think he’s aware. The evaluation report posted on the OCW site answers many of the questions he raises, at least to some extent. But there’s much more work to be done. These are hard questions, and we all should keep raising them. But I’m at least optimistic about the answers. And I too like kittens.

And cats.

I find myself remiss…

Filed under: , , , — Stephen Carson @ 8:48 am

…in failing to note sooner the recent launch of the Open.Michigan site and the sample of courses on the Open.Michigan OCW site. The Open.Michigan site draws together the full range of open initiatives at Michigan, which is quite impressive, and the Open.Michigan OCW site provides a first look at what promises to grow into a very large-scale OCW in the years to come. Congratulations to the team there—I know this is the result of much behind-the-scenes labor and its great to see it coming to fruition.

May 8, 2008

OCW visitor donation campaign

Filed under: , , — Stephen Carson @ 1:01 pm

MIT OpenCourseWare launched our first visitor donation campaign yesterday, with the theme “Invest in Open.” We’ve been accepting donations through the site for some time, but in the next month we’re reaching out and asking our visitors to take their support to the next level. While MIT OpenCoureWare is fully funded for the next few years, we are beginning the transition from a grant-supported project to a program sustained by an NPR-style mix of corporate sponsorships, visitor donations and continued support from MIT.

Visitor donations is not expected to be the largest of our revenue streams, but is is nonetheless an important one as it provides the wiggle room that we need to continue to innovate above and beyond our core publication activities. Visitor donations will provide some of the core support, but elements of our operation such as our mirror site program and new features such as our Highlights for High School portal will in the future be heavily dependent on the amount of support we receive from our visitors.

Please support OCW during this campaign and help us demonstrate that our visitors will be a viable element of our ongoing funding in the future, and demonstrate your support by including our blog badge on your site:

MIT OpenCourseWare: I'm invested


April 17, 2008

More from the UW Eau Claire student body presidential race

Filed under: — Stephen Carson @ 3:51 pm

Two more articles in the UW Eau Claire student newspaper. The newspaper endorses candidates supporting an OCW at Eau Claire, albeit with this somewhat cryptic concern:

There was one issue both tickets brought up that the editorial board found troubling, though. Both brought up the OpenCourseWare system the university is going to be installing soon, which may be good for students but bad for professors. The system, which puts course syllabi and materials online for students to view before signing up for classes, would force some professors with more difficult course loads to potentially dumb down their classes so as to better appeal to prospective students.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that particular concern argued before. The other article covers a debate.

Stanford considers OER

Filed under: , , — Stephen Carson @ 12:38 pm

The Stanford Daily is reporting on the discussions underway on campus about a possible open educational resources project there. The deliberations include faculty, students and administration. From the article:

Stanford currently offers a little over a dozen full-length audio courses for free download through “iTunes U,” a branch of Apple’s popular downloading service that hosts digital content from colleges and universities. A Stanford YouTube channel distributing select video content will launch in the coming months.

While these offerings are limited, the University has convened a task force, the Stanford Open Education Initiative (SOEI), to explore the possibility of significantly expanding content and accessibility in the near future.

“[SOEI has been] researching the range of options,” said Scott Stocker, director of Stanford Web Communications, including “joining the OpenCourseWare Consortium, building a site similar to the Yale Open Courses site, or attempting to create a unique Stanford offering.”

Very exciting stuff!

April 15, 2008

Another best-of

Filed under: , , — Stephen Carson @ 8:30 am

Here’s another listing of top resources by discipline that have been appearing of late–this one on math. I point to it not because MIT is in the top spot, but more remarkably because seven of the ten by my count are OCW Consortium members–plus CMU, which is a fellow Hewlett grantee. Really very nice to see so many unique contributions and illustrates that OER are not one-size-fits-all.

April 14, 2008

Two news items

Filed under: — Stephen Carson @ 10:47 am

Top down and bottom up support for OCW in the news today. First, an op-ed piece by Susan Hockfield in the Boston Globe today:

…perhaps the most powerful tool to offer people in the developing world is knowledge and analytical skills they can use to help themselves. Today, MIT’s OpenCourseWare makes materials for virtually all of the institute’s 1,800 courses available online, to anyone on earth, free ( For many courses, translations are available in Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese, with Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish versions on the way.

Since MIT launched OpenCourseWare in 2001, more than 40 million people around the world have used the site. We regularly receive e-mails from teachers, students, and self-learners, explaining how MIT OpenCourseWare has improved their teaching or changed their lives. One woman from Latin America wrote a note of thanks, because, as she put it, OpenCourseWare opens “a window of knowledge for so many who are limited by economic or other reasons. It’s truly a way to spread freedom to humankind.” We hope she’s right.

And this from the student newspaper of UW Eau Claire covering the student senate presidency campaign there:

High on the Lauer-Charlier to-do list is implementing an online database that would allow students to see syllabi and video from professors courses to help give students a better understanding of what a course would be like.

Lauer said the OpenCourseWare program would start slow, having only a few professors participating at first before opening the program to all professors. He said Senate received $20,000 toward start-up costs but added that it wouldn’t cost much to implement and run the program since the program is in place at universities across the country.

April 4, 2008

Capilano College OCW

Filed under: , — Stephen Carson @ 10:47 am

Congratulations to the team at Capilano College on becoming the first Canadian institution to launch an OCW. Their initial offerings have really great breadth. John Wilson at Capilano has also been tireless in helping the OCW Consortium transition to an independent entity. Capilano’s courses are a great addition to the growing global body of open educational content!

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