Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's OCW time!

This past week I also looked at the OCW module of #ioe12. The assigned video was the announcement of the OpenCourseWare project back in 2001 (more than 10 years ago! Who would have thunk it!).  Now, reading about the OCW back then, I got the impression that these were going to be courses and not just materials. That OCW would be something like what MOOCs are today rather than a publisher or materials.

When I first looked at OCW I was really disappointed.  These were not courses!  They were materials, exams, readings and course notes.  Some OCW materials were more "complete"than others, so an interested student (with loads of motivation and resourcefulness) would be able to  self-study, but some materials were really incomplete and not conducive to self-study.  I saw this as a major #fail. This really colored my perception of OCW.

At this year's NMC conference (11 years later!) I did attend a session on OCW and my misconceptions about what OCW is, and what it was intended to be, were cleared up.  Yes indeed! OCW was not meant to be a course, but rather it was meant to be a resource for fellow educators! NOW IT ALL MAKES SENSE!

In part, I blame the media for this misconception, and I blame fellow colleagues for the misrepresentation, I also blame myself for not reading the "about OCW" (i.e. reading the fine manual) before passing judgement.  Viewing this announcement video just shows that MIT was open, from the beginning, that this was not courses, but rather materials. This was, as the faculty panel said, bringing up to speed, up to "internet time" a time honored practice of sharing materials with colleagues.  Before it was done via snail-mail and on an ad-hoc basis. Now it would be faster and on an asynchronous pull basis.

The interesting thing about the video (and in other discussions about "open" in education) is the profit motive.  The "are you losing money by giving something away for free"  and the "My kid is paying $33,000/year when they could be getting it for free on OCW" comments.  The first type is just misguided.  As the panel pointed out few faculty are compensated (adequately) for writing textbooks. So the currency of the realm (IMHO) is reputation. Giving something away doesn't give you hard currency like money (which isn't there anyway) but it gives you soft currency like reputation which is what academia has had all along.  The second argument, again, seems to equate materials with courses and education.  Simple materials are not what you are going to college for.  If that were the case towns would invest in fantastic public libraries and people would go there instead of college.  People do go to college not for the materials, but access to subject matter experts, in-class communities, department-level communities of practice, and evaluation and accreditation. You don't get this stuff with just a collection of materials.

As a side note, it seemed a bit disappointing to me that there are no Greek translations of OCW materials. It seems like such a missed opportunity. Not that Greece is a developing nation (well, some may say that in some aspects it is), but it's odd that the cradle of western civilization is so under-represented in educational efforts like OCW and Wikipedia.  Something needs to be done about this!
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