OpenFiction [Blog]

Support pediatric cancer research

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 27, 2007

A quick note regarding my son Daniel, who is currently undergoing treatment for a Wilms’ tumor (Stage II/Favorable histology):

Our friend Justin Finn is going to shave his head in Daniel’s honor. Justin is part of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which holds events all over the world around St. Patrick’s Day to raise money for children’s cancer research. Last year almost 12,000 people raised $8 million and shaved their heads as a sign of solidarity with children who have lost their hair to chemotherapy. We are grateful that Justin is one of these people and are honored that he has chosen to dedicate his shave to Daniel. Ironically, Daniel’s two treatments from completing his chemo and hasn’t lost his hair–I thought maybe they could find someone bald to start using Rogaine…

The mission of St Baldrick’s is to find a cure for childhood cancer. All donations go to directly to childhood cancer research. Specifically, the St Baldrick’s Foundation provides grants to hospitals and research groups who work together towards a cure for childhood cancer. The foundation also supports research fellowships, attracting some of the best and brightest medical doctors to pursue a career in pediatric oncology.

If you’d like more information or to sponsor Justin by donating to St Baldrick’s foundation, go to
Daniel’s story and photo are there, as well as Justin’s. If you have trouble with this link, just cut and paste or go to and search Daniel Carson under kids or Justin Finn under participants. Thank you!!

Log in issue fixed

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 20, 2007

OK, so I found the check box that fixed the below-mentioned registration issue. I think.

Stephen Downes’ response

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 20, 2007

Not sure why my blog is not allowing log in for comments, as Stephen Downes indicates below, but I’ll try to fix it (any suggestions are welcome). I do appreciate he has been generally supportive of MIT OCW, and am really just trying to be sure that other schools interested in sharing materials will feel their contributions will be welcomed. His response to my previous post is included in its entirety below.

Valuable Learning

Responding to Stephen Carson. I wanted to post this as a comment, but his blog requires that you be logged in to post a comment, and then provides no way to register, making commenting impossible.

Stephen Carson takes issue with my comments in a recent eLearn article where I distinguish between MIT’s OpenCourseWare style of open educational resources (OERs) and the Open University’. In a nutshell, the former consists of the handouts and related materials used to support an in-person class, while the latter consists of self-study materials.

Carson is right when he asserts that I prefer the latter over the former, for reasons I’ll get to in just a moment. He nonetheless appears to rather misinterpret the gesture I made in calling the one form ‘green’ and the other ‘gold’. Perhaps he is not familiar with the open archiving movement. Proponents such as Steven Harnad use the green-gold system to argue that both are acceptable, though they constitute different forms of access.

I was trying to say that while I don’t think the OCW approach was everything it could be, I was nonetheless supportive.

But why would I take the stance I did in the first place? Carson takes issue with me when I say this: “The understated message in an initiative such as OCW is that an MIT education is not equivalent to the resources that support the education, that it consists essentially of the contact with the professors and the community that develops among the students.”

Well, yeah. But the reason I say this is that this is what MIT staff said when OCW was launched, and what they continue to say to this day. I am not the one saying that OCW is not a complete package, MIT is the one saying this.

Now of course I continue on to criticize this approach in a way that MIT staff obviously would not. I ask, contra MIT staff, “is the development of an institution and a class, whether online or in person, necessary in order to translate digital content into learning?” Remember, I am not the one saying that OCW is not a complete education. MIT staff are the ones saying it.

And, it seems to me, that if MIT staff are saying that OCW is not a complete education, and that if OCW was developed and implemented by MIT staff, then it was a deliberate policy intent of MIT to not provide a complete education. The materials would be helpful, but not in themselves enough. That’s what they said. So, obviously, what you would need, in addition to OCW materials, is MIT staff.

Now I would suggest that Stephen Carson not get all huffy with me for merely repeating what MIT officials told the world.

My suggestion in the article is that the creation and distribution of complete self-study packages, a la the Open University, is better. I say this, not simply because OCW ‘does not address my agenda’, but because I believe that there are good reasons to believe full self-study materials are better than incomplete course resources.

Carson himself makes it clear why you would want to offer complete self-study resources rather than ones that are designed to be supplemented by in-person instruction: “the data we’ve developed [PDF – 9.0MB] demonstrating that the vast majority of use of OCW is self-learning independent of institution and classroom.” In other words, exactly the use not intended by MIT staff when they developed OCW.

Well, of course, this was always going to be the case, wasn’t it? Only a few rich people can afford the personal tutelage of MIT professors, or even those of affiliated institutions. The vast majority of people accessing the materials, and particularly those outside the western nations, cannot afford professors. So they make do with the materials, even though they’re incomplete.

That’s what makes the materials good. That’s what makes them ‘green’. Because people can make do with them. But surely it is not unreasonable for me to prefer materials explicitly designed to support self-study over materials designed to make it harder. No?

Carson explains the point of his objection to my characterization: “the reason Stephen’s comments irk me is that they are exactly the kinds of comments likely to discourage broad participation in open sharing.” In particular, “Stephen dings us on the one hand for appearing elitist and then turns around and sets a gold standard for open sharing that very few other schools are going to be able to meet.”

Well, if MIT staff had come out several years ago and said something like, “We would like to be able to offer full self-study materials, but this is not our expertise, so we’re going to do what we can,” that would be one thing, and I could very easily have lived with that explanation.

But instead what we got was a stuffy, “Of course, it’s not an MIT education,” which makes me think, well aren’t we so lucky they’re allowing access for their leavings for us plebes. Now that’s not an accurate picture either – I know as much as anyone how much work it has been to put OCW together and to make it available. But that’s how it sounds – and I’m not the one making it sound that way.

A little humility would wear well on MIT, some sort of admission that it did not invent everything and cannot solve all the world’s problems. If MIT cannot produce materials up to the quality of the Open University’s, well, that’s OK, they’re still good. They’re ‘green’. Not ‘gold’, sure, but nonetheless, still worth supporting.

Would the development of materials up to the Open University’s standard deter broad participation in open sharing? It’s hard to say, though it’s worth nothing that the Open University does now exist, and so we’re going to see whether the deployment of that model has any impact. I don’t see why it would. I haven’t seen any slowdown in activity since Open University’s announcement. If anything, it has sped up. Sure, the bar is higher now. But I don’t see people throwing up their hands and saying “Oh it’s too hard for us.” And why would they? Most academic I know – even ones who aren’t from MIT – think that they could improve on existing materials. That’s what drew them to the profession in the first place.

So, yeah. I’m going to criticize the attitude. I’m going to criticize the proposition that you need the tutelage of MIT professors to get an MIT-quality education. I’m going to question why the OCW Consortium site offers no community function (this is not 1995, after all – we’ve evolved well beyond links). I’m going to wonder why participation needs to be mediated through a secretive email exchange.

And let me emphasize, since this point seems to have been missed: I support OpenCourseWare. I think it’s a good thing. I am pleased that MIT has spent the time and money to make these resources available. This support is pretty much unqualified.

Just… if something better comes along, I’m going to say it’s better. In what would would I not do this?

p.s. I did not write the article for ScienceGuide (I have never even heard of them). The source Carson cites, ScienceGuide, has published a copy of the article taken from eLearn. Not that I care, but eLearn Magazine may have something to say about it.

I don’t have time for a lengthy response below, but a few thoughts:

• I was starting from a place of acknowledging that MIT said this was not an MIT education (in fact, I wondered why Stephen used the word “understated”). I’m not sure how this gets conflated into a critique of MIT as being elitist–the commitment of OCW was to publish materials from all of MIT’s courses, rather than more fully developed online versions of a subset of MIT’s courses. To create online versions of all of MITs courses (for which no previous distance versions exist), would have cost ten times as much.

• Nobody’s saying OCW is the solution to all the world’s problems, but I do think it’s remarkable how much self-learning occurs on the site (absolutely unanticipated–the site was originally created as a resource for other educators). If self-learning can be supported by less formatted materials, I think it’s at least worth the research to understand the costs and benefits of creating OCWs versus online courses that are more expensive (typically anyway, unless distance learning is your core business). This comes back to a central question I’ve always said is unanswered–is it more cost effective to make a higher volume of less formatted materials available than a narrower range of more fully structured online materials? I don’t know, but I’d love to see some data.

• I can’t imagine OU UK’s site by itself would scare anyone off of open sharing, so long as other formats are seen as valuable as well. All I was saying is that setting OU UK’s amazing accomplishment as the ante to get in the game is a dangerous thing, because fewer people will play.

(As an aside, the OCW Consortium has been working for some time on more interactive community features, it just wasn’t the point of the portal.)

Which learning is more valuable?

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 16, 2007

Stephen Downes once again devalues the OCW model for not addressing his agenda. In a recent article in ScienceGuide, Stephen compares MIT OCW to OU UK’s OpenLearn, rating the former as the “green” standard in open educational resources and the latter the “gold.” I think Stephen is pretty right on in his description of the different models, although he overplays the extent to which MIT provides any kind of “stamp of approval” for use of the material (the example he cites was a experiment to see how easily localized the materials were rather than an attempt to market something using the OCW name).

I take issue, though, with rating one as somehow better than the other, which is a byproduct of Stephen’s interest in online learning versus classroom based learning. A quote that as usual strips out the rhetoric:

The understated message in an initiative such as OCW is that an MIT education is not equivalent to the resources that support the education, that it consists essentially of the contact with the professors and the community that develops among the students… Something like an MIT education can be obtained—but like the liturgies of old, the intercession of the scholar is needed to interpret the source materials… But is the development of an institution and a class, whether online or in person, necessary in order to translate digital content into learning? What of the self-study materials that have blanketed the digital world offering everything from database design to Spanish lessons?

He then goes on to praise OpenLearn as the gold to MIT’s green. First, this ignores the data we’ve developed [PDF – 9.0MB] demonstrating that the vast majority of use of OCW is self-learning independent of institution and classroom. The difference between the two sites is that MIT’s reflects our core competency in residential instruction and OpenLearn reflects OU UK’s in distance education. Both are the result of universities exceptionally well positioned to create a particular type of open resource, and the only reason to rank one against the other would be if one valued a particular type of learning over another, as does Stephen.

I guess the reason Stephen’s comments irk me is that they are exactly the kinds of comments likely to discourage broad participation in open sharing. We have a tough enough time making the case to other schools that open sharing is both a thing worth doing and relatively affordable. Stephen dings us on the one hand for appearing elitist and then turns around and sets a gold standard for open sharing that very few other schools are going to be able to meet. The OCW Consortium has been working hard in the past few years to find ways of making open publication more affordable, and his own judgments of the Consortium’s intentions notwithstanding, we’re actively working with all types of schools including community colleges, state schools and private institutions.

Most schools are publishing classroom-based materials. Others who have the experience and staff to support online learning, such as UC Irvine, are publishing online courses. Each type of sharing ought to be celebrated and encouraged rather than set against one another. If schools are made to feel that the sharing is only valuable if it is done in one particularly labor-intensive way, few will participate, and only the well funded will end up doing it, which I doubt is something Stephen intends to occur.


Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 14, 2007

Makes me sad to hear Mia Garlick will be leaving Creative Commons. Mia gave a great presentation at OpenEd 06, and has been tireless in her efforts to sort out the real issues in open licensing from the imagined terrors. It was a great pleasure to work with her. Best of luck at Google, Mia.

Educational professionals rate MIT OCW as a top source of educational content

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 14, 2007

From a recently released IMS survey, MIT OCW received high marks for user satisfaction among educational professionals. (Respondents: 31% of the respondents were executive administrators. 7% were deans or academic program or department leaders. 50% were information technology or instructional support staff. 11% were faculty.) We came in fourth, just behind Google Search, Wikipedia, and Cisco Academies–not bad company (notice none of these are commercial publishers of academic content). The commercial publishers came in grouped in a second tier below these open and non-traditional resources and MERLOT also made the list. An impressive showing for the open content crowd. I’ve included the relevant section from page 40 here. (Thanks, David)

Content, Authoring, and Assessment Satisfaction

There are a wide variety of sources of digital content to either form the basis of or supplement online courses. Three of the top four rated products, and perhaps all four, could be considered new or non-traditional approaches. Top honors went to Google search, followed by Wikipedia, both new sources enabled by the ubiquitous Internet. Next was the content from Cisco through the Cisco Academies program. While this effort has been around for many years now, it does represent a more self-paced, non-traditional approach. Fourth place goes to the MIT Open Courseware project. Clustered in another tier below the leaders were the digital assets provided by the educational publishers and the Merlot project, along with Google Scholar.

One Laptop Per Child

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 13, 2007

I had the opportunity last week to meet with some of the staff for OLPC the other day. We get a fair number of questions about OLPC through the MIT OCW feedback link, and I’d read some of the criticisms coming out–largely that it is a first world solution to third world problems and that cell phones and PDAs were going to become the platforms of choice in developing regions. I have to say that I am really impressed by the vision and ambition of the project, and it probably isn’t getting a fair shake by some of the critics. The computer itself is really cool of course and seems very accessible to even new computer users, plus all the software for it is open source and all the content provided is free. One thing I hadn’t heard before, the thing that may be even more impactful than the laptops themselves, is that the project is committed to ensuring broadband access for any regions where the laptops are distributed. I’m used to thinking of MIT OCW as an ambitious project, but we’re blown away by what these guys and gals are trying to achieve.

OER Commons launched

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 13, 2007

The latest Hewlett OER newsletter announced the beta launch of the OER Commons, a clearinghouse for OER content and information. The site is a great introduction to the wider world of open educational resources that can be used in conjunction with opencourseware content.

If you haven’t seen this already…

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 6, 2007

…this video really captures the dynamism of emerging web technologies and culture. Thanks, John.

tOFP by the numbers [ January 07 ]

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 5, 2007

I continue to have apples to oranges issues because of the addition of the Wilms Kids forum, but the OpenFiction Project had a record month, with 6,833 visits. As I am writing this post, I am realizing that the new OpenFiction forum actually has a post on it that I’ve ignored, so I just responded to that. Pretty cool. Another 44 downloads of tOFP [ Print ] went out the virtual door last month.

The numbers:

More details:
January 2007 (PDF)