OpenFiction [Blog]

Reports of the death of Web 1.0 are greatly exaggerated

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 5, 2007

Now I’m as much a proponent of Web 2.0 as the next guy, but I do notice a bias that creeps into discussions from time to time against Web 1.0, which I think is kind of silly. Just because the web can now support all kinds of new interactions doesn’t mean that all sites must, nor does it mean that the relatively static provision of information will not continue to be a major element of the web. I think of the reasons I currently go to the Web–I’ll take my Firefox toolbar links as a proxy here–Weather Channel, MyYahoo!, New York Times, Real Clear Politics, Google Calendar, Tech Time (MIT’s Calendar), MIT OCW, the MIT OCW web metrics site, the OCW Consortium site, and the various sites that make up the OpenFiction Project. The OpenFiction Project is my web sandbox and includes some 2.0 stuff, but outside of the calendars and work-related sites, it mostly still good old fashioned information I wanna know. Maybe I’m old school.

So…while I found Stephen Downes’ recent review of the OCW Consortium site to have some valid points regarding UI, I did sense a disconnect between the actual critique of the site and the rhetoric it’s wrapped in. Here are a few samples of the actual critique:

The OpenCourseWare Consortium Web site is the beginning of a clearinghouse for courseware available from these institutions… The thrust of the site is evident in the three major divisions of the home page: Use, Share, and Support. The front page also offers a list of news articles about member institutions’ open courseware efforts and the open courseware movement. Available via RSS, the news articles are worth the read for the occasional gem among the publicity pieces, such as an item about Meta OpenCourseWare for Moodle… The [Use page] link opens a page that lists participating universities organized by country. Around two dozen institutions are listed, including six from the United States and nine from Japan… The best bet for Consortium readers actually wanting to find and use open courseware is the search link at the upper right. This is a link to a Google search with the “site” parameter set as a disjunction of the participating institutions’ open courseware sites. The results from a given search—a search for frogs, for example—are relatively precise, albeit suffering from Google’s inability to order results chronologically or by usefulness for educational purposes. From the home page (and also from the menu bar) is a link to the About Us page. On the left, this page lists the organization members by country. Each of these links points to a page describing the member institution and showing its logo; oddly, no links to the institutions are provided from these pages.

Fair enough. States what the site does and gives a description. Gets you to the OCW sites and tells you who the members are. Hey, the search even works–sort of. Now the rhetoric:

In terms of design, the Consortium Web site is very ordinary, consisting essentially of a set of pages linked together; contrary to expectations, there is no discussion or community component… The Use section is the most disappointing… The OpenCourseWare Consortium site is useful because it describes an important initiative that is developing rapidly, but an air of exclusivity permeates the site. As with its commercial counterpart, the Open Content Alliance, the Consortium is made up of large institutions and the only means of access to the OCW project is to send e-mail. If there is a community—and one presumes there is—it is well hidden; my searches for traces of a mailing list or Google or Yahoo group came up empty. It is as though these organizations are saying that they will manage open courseware for the rest of us. I do not believe that this is true, but it is unfortunate that the main access point to the OpenCourseWare Consortium is an impenetrable barrier…

“A set of pages linked together.” The sin of it. It follows a model that is perhaps the most transformative invention since the printing press. It’s a bit of a frustration that now simple = exclusive. The site was put together for the purposes he describes above by a group that largely depends on volunteer effort (present company of course is excepted). I guess I find it a little ironic that he both chastises the site for its lack of interactivity (which was not the main point of it) and fails to use the one interactive feature offered to seek answers to his concerns. Had he used the e-mail feature, he might have discovered that

1) the Consortium is anything but exclusive, with the only criteria being that schools joining be accredited and publish ten courses in and OCW format under an open license (a failing if this is not clear already, yes); and,

2) the Consortium has a collaboration site (that does require a log-in, but is not guarded by moats of fire) and been working for some time on a Web 2.0 solution to support opencourseware use (which is not as easy to implement as a Web 1.0 site that’ll get people to the content and give basic information about the Consortium).

There are clearly some things we overlooked in the implementation, and it is helpful to have them pointed out, but I do think one of the successes of the opencourseware movement is that it doesn’t take on too many agendas at once. Let’s first try to make the materials open and accessible, and after that we can look at interactivity and certification and open tools and all the other things that would obviously make the materials more impactful. No, the OCW Consortium site is not an astounding achievement, but the 3,200+ courses worth of educational materials from over 200 institutions and in nine languages that you can get to from the site really are, and after all, isn’t that the point?


One Response

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  1. […] 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. […]

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