Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's OCW week on Change

It seems like it's OCW (open courseware) week at ChangeMOOC.  When I read the initial description (it referring to OER) I was wondering what sort of readings or thoughts would be seeding this week's discussions. In my initial post for the week I made reference to the paradox of OER (I think it was David Wiley who originally wrote about it), but I am glad that this week is about OCW.

I have to say that personally I have a love-hate relationship with OCW.  I love that OCW exists; I think it is an awesome concept because not only does it open up academia, it offer cross-pollination opportunities with other colleagues in other schools (that you don't necessarily know of), it makes courses more transparent to your current and future students, and it offers opportunities for people to self-study if they can't come to your institution or can't afford your institution.  I often look for OCW content in my own disciplines to see what other institutions are doing.  One such example is Utah State. I think it's great for universities and individual faculty to want to put their stuff out there and it's something we should encourage.

Of course, there is the "hate" aspect of OCW as well.  Well, OK, hate is a strong word to use, and I actually don't hate the OCW, just the politics, apprehension and misinterpretations about it. Let me take each one of these individually:

Misinterpretations of effectiveness of OCW content  
I did see this in the articles about MIT's OCW. The idea went as follows: if you put your material online, in OCW, you are (potentially) helping the poor get out of poverty by retooling and providing a means for an education.  Sure, that may be possible, but do the poor always have access to a computer and the internet to access OCW?  Do they always have the prerequisite literacies to be able to self-direct their studies based on OCW materials?  Are the materials that are placed on OCW free and open source (including all the readings) - in other words is it just the course outline that is open? or are the readings there as well? Look at this MIT course for example, unless you've got access to a college library to get them for free some of this material is straight out of pocket.

Don't get me wrong, OCW is great, but at the same time it's not a panacea or a catalyst for social change - it's simply one element that must work in concert with other elements to make things happen. Content without instruction and/or mentorship is not easy for everyone - it's an acquired skill.


Apprehension about putting your materials online
As a student I always wanted to know "what's next" in my curriculum.  There were two reasons: (1) I wanted to know how things I am doing now connect with future things and (2) I wanted to use my "free" time in between semesters preparing for subsequent school semesters so I could make better use of my time (and take more classes than one normally would).
I was fairly resourceful and if professors didn't give me a sample syllabus (and many did), I was able to ferret things out from fellow classmates. This preparation helped me in my studies but not everyone does this. Having asked some faculty to post materials online for future students I get a look of apprehension. They feel great about teaching the courses, but they don't want to put their materials out there ( I should point out that these faculty are tenured faculty and thus don't fall under my adjunct exception rule that I articulated in a previous post) - part of it is that they feel self-conscious about the materials - someone will discover a typo for example or will be a harsh critic of their pedagogy; Other times they feel like it's their copyright and they don't want others to have their materials.
What I really dislike is that as academics we sometimes have a duplicitous nature. We will beg/borrow/steal from other colleagues' syllabi and course outlines to enrich our own, but we don't put our stuff out there to be used (or improved upon!) by our colleagues in other institutions. Now, not everyone is like this, so don't think that I am painting with a broad brush, but there are enough people like this that it makes me wonder about academia.  We need to #changeAcademia ;-)  Perhaps one should #adoptAfacultyMember and help them get their stuff out there :-)


Politics and the new and shiny thing
Finally, from a programatic end of things, the nuts and bolts of the OCW operation.  I know that our OCW project was started with grant money when OCW was new and shiny and everyone was ooohing and aaaahing about this and everyone was saying how we should get onboard right now!  From what I understand the seed money (being seed money) is running dry and it's now up to institutions to fun the maintenance and expansion of OCW projects (like MIT is doing!)  The problem that I've come across is that people aren't necessarily really interested in OCW as an "open" tool, but rather they were interested in OCW as the "new and shiny thing" or "the new toy".  Now that this shine has worn out and grants won't pay for it, those initial OCW champions seem to be on the hunt for new grants for new and shiny things, instead of taking a stance and really fighting for keeping OCW alive and expanding on campus.


Anyway, those were my initial thoughts for this week - what are YOUR loves and hates about OCW?
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