Thursday, January 3, 2008

Public access to education: Open courseware

Recent articles in the news media have brought new attention to opening university courses to the public. Some notable statements from the Washington Post, Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes written by Susan Kinzie are below.

At a time when many top schools are expensive and difficult to get into, some say it's a return to the broader mission of higher education: to offer knowledge to everyone.

"It's part of this movement in higher education to open up," George Mason professor Dan Cohen said, "to share the products of our research, to be here for the public good."

In an AP article (Denver Post) Internet opens elite colleges to all by Justin Pope describes how MIT classes are open to the world.

The world's top universities have come late to the world of online education, but they're arriving at last, creating an all-you-can eat online buffet of information.

And mostly, they are giving it away.

An MIT initiative called "OpenCourseWare" makes virtually all the school's courses available online for free—lecture notes, readings, tests and often video lectures. [Gilbert] Strang's Math 18.06 course is among the most popular, with visitors downloading his lectures more than 1.3 million times since June alone.

Strang's classroom is the world.

The biggest surprise has been that almost half who use the site aren't students or teachers but people just curious to learn.

Funding and intellectual property are two important issues, stated in the Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes article, need to be worked out. However, these issues should not be walls from proceeding with opening up the classrooms, they need to be worked through.

From a personal perspective, while attending PhD classes a couple of years ago, I often wished I could articulate what my instructors were saying about technology and change in organizations. My professors are experts in their field and many times they not only taught us theories, but also taught practical management processes about technology and invoking change. But, somehow, I knew I would lose in the translation the importance of the information and the learning. I certainly would not be able to represent the instructor as well as the instructor could do himself. My instructors were definitely the experts. Even today, often wish I could attend some of the lectures of classes that I had not been enrolled in--not for the credit, but because I want to learn.

Maybe some of those professors might fear that fewer businesses would use their consulting businesses or that fewer people would enroll in the executive MBA program. However, I believe that opening the classes up to the public would generate more consulting business, more research opportunities, and more executive MBA students.

Some benefits of open courseware are stated through the article.

Expanding Reach and Building Reputation
Elite universities can separate their credential from their teaching—and give at least parts of their teaching away as a public service. They aren't diminishing their reputations at all. In fact, they are expanding their reach and reputation.

Providing Access
[Steve] Carson says. "If you're working in a community"—say, in Africa—"you don't need the certification. You just need access to the information."

On the opposite coast of southern Africa, [Noorali] Jiwaji of says most of his Tanzanian students have never heard of MIT. Students use the courses "because it gives them a tool. They feel lost and they don't have good books," Jiwaji says. "They need a guide to help them."

Sharing Expertise Beyond Our physical Boundaries
"My life is in teaching," [Strang] says. "To have a chance do that with a world audience is just wonderful."

"Rather than going through my old, dusty books," [Dustin] Darcy said, "I thought I might as well go through it from the top and see if I learn something new."

Sharing Expertise Among Colleagues
Many "students" are college teachers themselves...

Encourages Creativity
"It really encourages the students to discover and try something new," he said. "Normally the stress here is on how things work, not on creating things of your own."

Karl Fisch, IT Director of in a Colorado school system and the winner of "Most influential blog post" Edublog Awards, comments that this is becoming news in mainstream media. Speaking of his experience with K-12 education, Karl Fisch also says it best and certainly applies to all higher education, particularly public institutions.

we need to figure out how to do it really, really well.

Kevin Gamble offers this comment on open courseware at land grant universities.

It's hard to believe that there are only three Land-Grant universities, with their "democratic mandate for openness, accessibility, and service to people" that have gotten solidly behind this movement. A tremendous opportunity has been squandered, but then again, it's never too late to do the right thing.


Unknown said...

How interesting that you have linked to a series of lectures, a few universities. I look forward to investigating some of these lectures.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post Anne. We need many more voices pushing this. This is way too important for the Land-Grants to sit out.

Unknown said...

Thanks Kevin,

The post started out as an email to some folks who work in distance learning programs at Auburn. Instead, I wrote the post, then sent them a 3 sentence email pointing to the post. The conversation should not be limited to the closed email discussion among a few people.