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Open Courses: Free, but Oh So Cheap
October 15, 2009 - 6:58pm

The Chronicle's article "Open Courses: Free, but Oh, So Costly" provides one model for open courseware. This M.I.T. model costs $10,000 to $15,000 per course - double that if lecture capture video is included. Marc Parry, the articles author, notes that:

"...some worry that universities' projects may stall, because the recession and disappearing grant money are forcing colleges to confront a difficult question: What business model can support the high cost of giving away your 'free' content?"

While admirable and wonderful and brilliant, I'd argue that most institutions should not replicate M.I.T.'s (or Yale's) model of providing open courses. These online courses do wonderful things for the greater learning community, and are terrific for alumni relations and recruiting prospective students, but we have other models for open learning. These alternative models accomplish two important goals. They benefit our enrolled students first, and they are cheap to implement.

Some student-centered and cheap models for open education:

1. Facilitate and support course design where student project work is published to the Web. Course media projects are perfect candidates for class YouTube sites (see my example here.) As we understand the benefits to replacing or supplementing traditional term papers with media projects (which require students to write to script their work) we can also bring this student work to the Web.

2. Partner with faculty and librarians to choose curricular materials that are available for free on the Web. Build publicly facing course websites that organize and annotate the curricular readings (and videos and other materials), attaching these readings to course modules, learning goals and assignments whenever possible. This is another reason why Blackboard and other CMS's should allow the easy option to publish course pages and/or modules with publicly available persistent urls. The option to make "public to the world" should be as easy as flipping a switch.

3. Design courses so that where appropriate student deliverables and communication live on publicly searchable and accessible platforms. Again here is an opportunity for CMS providers to offer the easy option of making their collaboration tools persistent and open. Sure, not every course blog, wiki or discussion board should be out in the open - but many can be. We need this option. Student papers can be delivered as attached files to blogs, wikis, and discussions. Peer feedback can privilege fellow students, but an option for community feedback (clearly marked as such) would only benefit the student. How many terms papers are lost to the world when they are privately submitted to the professor. All of this student work should be part of our larger knowledge database.

4. Offer faculty the opportunity to easily publish their lecture recordings and classes to the Web if they choose. Most lecture capture systems support, or will support soon, one-button uploading to YouTube/EDU and iTunesU. The worry about clearing rights to every last lecture image is, I think, over-blown. Most publishers would be delighted with the free advertising if an illustration or graph is utilized in a lecture. Faculty should be sourcing these images in their materials, just as we demand of our students, with the sourcing providing great marketing. As long as an easy "take down" procedure is in place (which I doubt will be used much) then the default should be to publish (if the faculty member wishes).

The key to understanding the value of open education is that most of the benefits accrue to the sharer, not the recipient.


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