In the six years since the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled its OpenCourseWare program, a handful of individual institutions – among them Johns Hopkins, Michigan State, Rice, Tufts and Utah State Universities – have posted their course materials online to promote the (literally) free exchange of knowledge and information. “It’s very much one school here, one school there,” says David Wiley, director of Utah State’s Center for Open and Sustainable Learning and an associate professor in the department of instructional technology. “It’s just not the kind of thing that was going to go on scale if we waited for everyone to do it individually.”
So a new statewide initiative, led by Utah State, takes a different tack. The “Utah OpenCourseWare Alliance” Web site launches today with materials from 105 courses at seven Utah colleges – and with taxpayer monies funding the enterprise. “It’s a way,” Wiley says, “”to get some direct value back to people who fund higher education.”
The Alliance’s roots are appropriately high-tech and collaborative. While reading the Wiki of a state representative, Wiley posted a note describing a possible inter-university collaboration (Utah State has managed its own OpenCourseWare program for several years now). State Rep. Stephen H. Urquhart responded, an e-mail conversation ensued and $200,000 was ultimately allocated in the state budget. Utah universities willing to commit to publishing materials for five courses by the end of September and another five by the end of the calendar year were eligible for $10,000 cash grants from that pot in addition to $10,000 in-kind grants in the form of technological support from Utah State, which hosts the collection of materials.
“It’s safe to say that for all the schools, they’re probably spending more resources than the $10,000 is going to cover, but it’s been a nice way to start,” says Marion Jensen, a Utah State Ph.D. student in instructional technology who, as project director for the alliance, offered training for Utah institutions as they came on board. Officials from at least two of the colleges, Jensen says, indicated that they had already been interested in making course materials available online, but hadn’t previously felt that they had the resources to begin.
The participating universities include six public institutions – the College of Eastern Utah; Dixie State and Utah Valley State Colleges; the University of Utah; and Utah State and Weber State Universities – as well as Western Governors University, an online institution founded by 19 governors. A number of university extension courses covering gardening and farming topics are represented online -- including cattle management, food safety, soils and landscapes, annuals and perennials, turf management, irrigation and fertilization. Other areas strongly represented on the site include engineering, liberal arts and instructional technology.
"The biggest challenge," says Wiley, "will be just letting people know about the fact that it's there."