Here’s an open ed site that I really like both from the content and design perspectives. We’ve talked a little with WGBH as they’ve been developing this, and I think they’ve come up with some nice solutions to the complicated problem of navigating non-text resources. There are about five or six different ways of approaching the clips they’ve collected, all of which are easy to understand and use, and aren’t together the least bit confusing. This is a site I wish I’d had access to for my expository writing classes.
The coolest thing is that someone out there finds OCW cool enough to put this together:
The OpenFiction Project broke the 10K barrier, with 10,849 visits last month. In addition to locking down the tOFP forum, though, I have decommissioned the Wilms Kids forum as the ACOR mailing list seems to serve the community’s needs just fine. Lori and I had not found the ACOR list when we started the forum. We’ll see how deactivating the forums affects traffic next month.
Another 55 downloads of tOFP [ Print ] went out the virtual door last month.
March 2007 (PDF)
I mentioned a while back that my son had been diagnosed with cancer (Wilms’ tumor) and was undergoing treatment. Didn’t want to leave that issue completely hanging in this space, so here’s an update: Daniel completed an 18 week course of chemotherapy with no complications. Last week, he had scans indicating no evidence of disease, and had his venous access port removed in a brief surgery. Lori and I are tremendously relieved to have made it to this point with no complications and are optimistic that this treatment will result in a cure. Daniel will have scans repeated every three months for three years, and then every six months for three more. Thanks to everyone who has supported our family during this crisis.
In thinking about the audience for OCW, we’ve always talked about educators, students and self learners, and made the explicit assumption that educators need the least support in using the materials, students need a little more support and self learners needed the most. By support I’m talking about features above and beyond the standard vanilla OCW static publication of raw materials. Mostly, these features are the bulletin boards, forums and other peer-to-peer communication systems intended to provided access to a (presumably absent) community of learners.
I’ve been wondering recently how much water this really holds, at least in some circumstances. There’s no doubt that there are potential learners out there who lack any kind of learning community, and that technology can be developed to support these learners. But it occurred to me recently that for a great many of those we think of as self learners, they probably are connected to fairly stable and supportive “learning communities,” be they professional associations, peer groups in the workplace or connections to colleagues at other organizations.
In part this is just an intuitive sense based on personal experience–I’ve certainly learned more informally since I got out of school than I did in school, and much of this learning has been supported by my work environment (both at Emerson and MIT). I realize it’s possible that my work experience has been an exception, but as businesses are depending more and more on the lifelong learning skills of their employees, more and more are facilitating informal learning in a range of ways.
In some ways, it seems that faculty may be the ones most able to take advantage of additional support features, especially in cutting-edge fields where there are few, widely dispersed experts. We’ve come across a number of such online communities recently, where faculty with common interests at different institutions have created their own virtual environments for collaboration. One interesting direction to look in terms of supporting use of OCW materials is to develop a generic version of of this type of faculty collaboration software, so that each community doesn’t have to roll their own.
At the highest level, though, we need to think a little more carefully about audiences and their needs, as our intuitive sense may be misleading.
A quote by USU grad student Preston Parker from a recent e-mail I was cc:’d on. Preston was describing the OCW concept to someone and included the following (which he later posted on his blog):
OCW began with no intention of being instructional. The goal was to just put course content online and make it available to the world. What the world did with it was up to them. Many have tried to come up with ways to make the content instructional….and that’s a great quest, but no one knows how to do it yet…we are still investigating. Just remember, that, as OCW is now, it is not instructional…it’s just content.
I might have said “OCW began with the hope that the materials would have some educational value, but no expectation that they would provide stand-alone instructional benefit.” Regardless, I do think at least for MIT OCW, it is good to keep in mind that it is, as Preston says, “just content.” I do believe that one of the strengths of the project is that it marries MIT strength–classroom-based instructional materials–with the internet’s strength–content distribution.
There was no clear understanding of how the materials might be used, other than that other instructors might be able to use them much in the same way that colleagues share syllabi informally. In that light, though, I do think it’s remarkable that about half of our users are not affiliated with educational institutions. Understanding how they use the site I think will be key to understanding what instructional benefit the site does provide.