[Paleopsych] CHE: 'Open Courseware' Idea Spreads
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Tue Apr 12 19:39:53 UTC 2005
Courseware' Idea Spreads
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.4
[The problem is that the best teachers I had did not teach the course but
taught themselves. Rutledge Vining, in the economics dept., taught his
students the same three things, regardless whether the course was in the
concept of economic legislation or the spatial distribution of an economic
system. He was perpetually unsatisfied with all his students, including
me. BUT, those three ideas stuck in my mind and I can hardly consider any
problem without running them through the three ideas. I've forgotten
nearly everything in all other courses, but those ideas stuck.
[The three are: 1. Find out exactly what the problem is, 2. Distinguish
between the rules of the game and the playing of the game, 3. Distinguish
the between probability process and probability outcome, remembering that
Time and chance happeneth to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
[I add that Buchanan and Tullock were great teachers. They did not teach
the subject either but drew us mere graduate students into their latest
research. None of this could be duplicated in Open Courseware.]
MIT's plan to give away course materials online gains a few adherents
By JEFFREY R. YOUNG
When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced an ambitious
plan to give away online materials for every course, officials
wondered whether other colleges and universities would follow suit.
The answer? Sort of.
Nearly four years after the start of MIT's OpenCourseWare project,
several colleges met to unveil their own plans to publish extensive
sets of course materials -- such as syllabi, lecture notes, and
quizzes -- and encourage anyone to use them freely. There is one major
difference: No one other than MIT is pledging to give away every
course. And most of the newcomers expect to convert only a handful of
courses per year to an open format.
The main reason is money. MIT officials are spending $6-million per
year on the project, much of which is coming from grants from the
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation. The project, which has already published more than 900 of
MIT's 1,800 courses, is being touted as a success, as it has drawn
downloaders from around the world who are using the materials as
models for their own teaching or to learn on their own.
Proponents say the main beneficiaries are in the developing world,
where students cannot afford textbooks and universities are looking
for help setting up courses. MIT officials say that the materials are
also inspiring more people to apply to the institute, as well as
helping students at MIT decide which courses to sign up for.
Though many professors at other colleges already create course Web
sites, the majority do so haphazardly, or in a way that is designed to
be used only by their students. Open courseware seeks to make sure
each course's materials are far more complete, and are presented in a
way that makes them easy for others to use.
The growth of these giveaways marks a major philosophical shift from
the mid-1990s, when many colleges and professors thought they could
rake in profits selling course materials online.
Colleges that have bought into the open-courseware concept say they
would like to give away everything, but that they cannot afford to put
all that material online and keep it up to date. Besides, one set of
free materials may be enough, so other colleges and universities are
focusing on making available only their signature programs or courses
that are not taught by MIT. Many of the new projects also have grant
"I'm not surprised right away that it's a little slow to take off,"
says Frank Mayadas, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan
Foundation. "Regardless of the motivation and desire, it just isn't
going to take off like wildfire" because of the cost.
But Anne H. Margulies, executive director of MIT's OpenCourseWare
project, says that while MIT always hoped other colleges would follow
its lead, it did not expect many to give everything away.
"What we aspire to," she says, "is to work with other schools so we
can create a collective body of high-quality course materials."
Representatives from MIT and six other U.S. universities that are
starting open-courseware projects met at MIT in February to trade tips
on how to manage their projects. Representatives from Chinese
universities attended as well, as did officials from Universia.net, a
coalition of universities in Portugal, Spain, and several South
American countries that is working to translate MIT's course materials
into Spanish and Portuguese.
The U.S. institutions represented were the Harvard University Law
School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Johns Hopkins
University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Tufts University, the
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's School of Information, the
University of Notre Dame, and Utah State University. Ms. Margulies
stressed that the meeting was informal, and that no consortium had
been created, though one may form in the future.
Several of the colleges unveiled their first open courses at the
meeting. Among them was the Johns Hopkins University, which has two
courses online so far, and hopes to have eight more by April.
Sukon Kanchanaraksa, director of the public-health school's center for
teaching and learning with technology, says that many of the school's
alumni living in other countries already use the materials from
Hopkins's courses when they start teaching. "We're just going to make
it one more step easier for them to use our content in their
teaching," he says. Officials hope to make available 50 to 75 courses
over the next several years.
James D. Yager, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the
school and professor of toxicology in the department of environmental
health sciences, says he thinks alumni and professors will support the
"People who come to public health are committed to really making a
difference in the lives of people," he says. "By and large academics,
especially in public health, realize that the availability of the
content is going to have a beneficial effect."
One focus of the meeting at MIT was developing strategies to keep the
costs of creating such course Web sites as low as possible.
Utah State talked about software it is building to automatically grab
material from existing university course Web sites and turn it into a
form that is more user-friendly to users outside the university. The
university has made the software open source, meaning it is free for
anyone to download and use for noncommercial purposes. Utah State won
a $915,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation to support the software,
and to assist other universities that want to use the software.
"The idea is to make it as cheap and easy as possible" for
universities to start open-courseware projects, says David A. Wiley,
assistant professor of instructional technology at the university,
which has six courses in an open format. "We're trying to find a way
to do this that can be sustained over time without tens of millions of
dollars of external funding."
Mr. Wiley's team has also built free chat-room software for
open-courseware sites that MIT now uses in some of its course sites.
The software is designed to highlight the most useful comments in an
online discussion without the use of a human moderator -- since
universities do not actively teach or support those who want to use
the free materials. The software lets anyone make a comment, and then
allows users to rate how helpful each comments is. The software then
displays the most highly rated comments first.
"It's a way for the community to reward good behavior and positive
contributions made by the group," says Mr. Wiley. "But that rewarding
is done by the group."
Copyright is another challenge in running open-courseware projects,
the meeting's participants say.
Many professors regularly use charts, graphs, or other illustrations
they've culled from textbooks or other copyrighted works in slide
presentations or handouts. Although using those illustrations in a
classroom is allowed under fair-use provisions of copyright law,
universities must get permission before putting the same materials
online where anyone can see them. That can take time and money because
officials must track down who owns the copyright and often must pay a
fee to post the materials. One college decided not to convert a
popular course to an open format because it included so many
copyrighted items that it would have been unmanageable.
Another issue discussed at the meeting was how to make it easy for
professors to participate in open-courseware projects.
"If a faculty member perceives that he's going to have to be hitched
to a wagon that's going to run for a long time, he's not going to do
it," says Alexander J. Hahn, a professor of mathematics at Notre Dame
and director of the university's John A. Kaneb Center for Teaching and
Learning. "You have to lower the threshold of time and energy required
Representatives from the Hewlett Foundation have worked to get a
diverse group of institutions to participate in open-courseware
Last year foundation officials approached Vivian Sinou, dean of
distance and mediated learning at Foothill College, to encourage the
district to join in. So the district proposed creating an
open-courseware project that any community college in California could
participate in, and it won a $124,000 grant from the foundation for
After months of development, the college unveiled its first eight
courses in January. Ms. Sinou says her staff tried to pick the best
examples in the college district's most popular subject areas -- "the
ones that the majority of community-college students go through."
Barbara S. Illowsky, a professor of mathematics and statistics at De
Anza College, teaches one of the courses, Elementary Statistics.
She says she has already received positive feedback, both from
students who want to brush up on concepts, and from professors who
want to adopt some of the materials for their own teaching. "I've had
two faculty from different community colleges ask me about it," she
Did she consider trying to sell the materials to a publisher or
company instead of working with the free-courseware project? No, she
says, in part because she says she was only able to create the online
materials with help from technical-support staff at the college.
"I really felt that this course was a really combined effort of a lot
of different people from our district." And, she says, "why not
educate people everywhere?"
Eric C. Carson, a geology professor at San Jacinto College North, has
already made use of one of Foothill College's open-courseware sites in
He says he prefers material on open-courseware sites over that found
on professors' Web sites. "There's some level of quality control and
general oversight associated" with open courseware, he says. "If I'm
just strolling around on the Internet and come across some random
professor's Web site," he adds, "it just kind of dilutes my confidence
in it, and it makes me spend a lot more time really sitting down and
looking for what I like."
Many of the proponents of open courseware argue that making materials
free online is an important way to fulfill their institutions'
public-service or outreach missions.
Mary Y. Lee, an associate provost at Tufts University and dean of
educational affairs at the university's medical school, says the
university has a tradition of being involved in free-software efforts.
Tufts is working to put 11 courses, mainly from the medical school,
online. "It's a natural extension of work we've already been doing,"
Ms. Lee says.
Though officials hope the materials will have educational benefit,
they stress that they are not a substitute for taking courses at the
"We're not offering a correspondence course to become a doctor, no,"
says Ms. Lee. She likened the materials to textbooks, noting that
there is more to an education than simply reading textbooks. "Most of
the training in medicine is actually experience with patients and
Still, some students who have found Foothill's courses have sent
e-mail messages asking how they can receive college credit for reading
through the materials. Ms. Sinou directs them to the admissions
8 COLLEGES THAT OFFER COURSE MATERIALS ONLINE
Several U.S. colleges have started "open courseware" projects, in
which they publish extensive sets of course materials -- such as
syllabi, lecture notes, and quizzes -- online and encourage anyone to
use them freely.
Carnegie Mellon University: The university has seven courses online in
what it calls the Open Learning Initiative
(http://www.cmu.edu/oli). The project has received $3.4-million in
grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Foothill-DeAnza Community College District: In February the district
posted material for eight courses in a project it calls Sofia, Sharing
of Free Intellectual Assets (http://sofia.fhda.edu). The district
is working with other California community colleges to convert
selected courses to an open format and hopes to add about 25 more
courses per year for the next several years. The project is supported
by grants from the Hewlett Foundation.
Harvard University: Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet &
Society is beginning an open-courseware project, and its leaders say
they are interested in developing new ideas for how to design and
maintain such efforts.
Johns Hopkins University: The Bloomberg School of Public Health last
week unveiled a draft version of an open-courseware project
(http://ocw.jhsph.edu). Two courses -- "Understanding
Cost-Effectiveness Analysis in Health Care," and "Statistical
Reasoning I" -- are up so far, with eight more expected to be ready by
April. The project is supported by a $200,000 grant from the Hewlett
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Since 2001 the university has
been rapidly working to put materials for all of its 1,800 courses
online. The OpenCourseWare project (http://ocw.mit.edu), which has
support from the Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation, is expected to take about seven years to complete.
Tufts University: Officials are working to convert 11 professional
courses to an open-courseware format. Two are from the Fletcher School
of Law and Diplomacy, and the rest are from the university's four
health-science graduate schools -- the School of Dental Medicine, the
School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the School of Medicine, and
the School of Veterinary Medicine. The university is using internal
resources to pay for the project, but is seeking outside grants to
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: The university's School of
Information is working to convert about a dozen courses to open
courseware. It is also working to build free software to help
professors turn their existing Web resources into open-courseware
Utah State University: The university recently unveiled the first
eight courses in an open-courseware pilot project
(http://ocw.usu.edu). The courses were chosen to highlight the
university's most unique or well-known offerings. Programmers have
also developed free software, called EduCommons, to help produce the
Web sites. The project is supported by a $915,000 grant from the
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