OpenFiction [Blog]

AP article on OCW

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 30, 2007

The Associated Press just released this article by Justin Pope. I know Justin had been working on it for some time, and it’s a really great article. So far Google News has it being picked up by 165 news outlets–and counting!


Interestingly, the quote Justin selected from our discussions explains exactly my point in my previous post, using the same example (though not directly mentioning JHSPH).

NYTimes article

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 20, 2007

Sara Rimer of the New York Times has done a nice piece on Walter Lewin and MIT OpenCourseWare that is generating tremendous traffic to the site. We received 166K visits to the site yesterday, and the article is tops on the most e-mailed list this morning. If memory serves, that’s the most media-driven traffic we’ve ever received to the site.

There’s also an interesting set of comments attached to the article–68 so far–with a discussion of the relative value of online vs. traditional classes. Most of the discussion misses the subtlety that OCW really isn’t online instruction, and wasn’t intended to be. Rather than addressing the very real need for certification of learning (which is really what the discussion there is about), OCW was originally intended to address the more fundamental issue of access to educational materials regardless of certification issues.

The clearest example of what this means is probably the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health OCW. The information that is provided through that site is of tremendous help to communities around the world simply because it’s available, and can be used to improve available care and services. JHSPH also runs a distance learning program for those seeking the certification necessary to work in public health fields where certification is required. These are two distinct needs met by two distinct programs–yet much of the material used in the distance learning program is freely available through the OCW site and does not undercut enrollments.

This is not to say that OCW can’t address the need for certification–it can and should–but my hope would be that it does not do so at the expense of morphing into distance learning or losing site of the access mission.

Open Yale Courses launches

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 11, 2007

Open Yale Courses is now live, and looks great! Yale’s taken an all-video approach, and in doing so has been able to do video really well. They are using Flash and Quicktime instead of Real Media, and the have a nicely formatted downloading page–which is much better than the work-around we’ve had to use for MIT OCW. Also, the option for audio-only, which is nice, and full transcripts–which is really nice. Very clean design as well.

I will definitely be taking in the Modern Poetry class. Only regret–they’ve provided the syllabus, but none of the other course documents. Would be great to see the specifics behind “Regular attendance at lecture and in discussion section; some informal writing and exercises; midterm exam in class; two papers (5 and 7 pages); and a two-hour final exam.” Congrats to the team at Yale!

One day I’ll count…

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 11, 2007

…the number of posts I’ve written that start with “I’m working on the novel again…”

Anyway, a quick note on a revision technique: Because I’m a bit of a writing simpleton, I usually end up in first draft with relatively flat one-dimensional secondary characters. I mention in the OpenFiction course materials that I usually can keep no more than about three goals in mind as I’m drafting, and that usually consists of portraying the protagonist’s inner world, moving the plot forward in some way and some sort of descriptive or language element. I usually don’t have the bandwidth on the first pass to fully enter the interior life of secondary characters to flesh out their actions in a given scene.

For this reason, I end up doing at least one redraft of key scenes with secondary characters that I call a “sympathetic draft.” The point here is to specifically reimagine the scene from the antagonist’s point of view, to take the approach that they are the main character for at least one draft and look for the compelling reasons for their actions. I’m not always sure how much of it makes it onto the paper, but I definitely come to understand these characters better through the exercise, which can’t help but influence their behavior later in the book.

University of Maine visit

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 10, 2007


On Friday, I drove four hours north through the snow-covered pine forests of Maine to visit the U of Maine campus. Maine reminds me a lot of West Virginia, except with more moose and lobster. Thanks to Seth Tyler and the entire group at the BioMedia Lab at U of Maine for being such great hosts.

I say this a lot, but one of the best things about the invitations to share the OCW story is that I get to see so many just really cool things going on at other schools around the world. In addition to churning out truly elegant web sites for U of Maine (the School of Biology and Ecology site is Exhibit A), Seth’s group has created a really outstanding LMS called Synapse. I’ve used my share of LMSs and Synapse easily has the cleanest interface I’ve ever seen, plus a few administrative features I really wish I’d had available when I was teaching.

Synapse was born when a faculty member came to the BioMedia Lab unsatisfied with existing LMSs and asked to have a custom teaching site built. It’s been created and run by four people on part time effort. The whole thing has me thinking again about the impending doom I see for LMSs, which I’ve talked about before, although in a new way. In addition to Web 2.0 tools and IP practices causing LMSs to atrophy into student information management tools, it also seems increasingly possible that small groups of educators may be able to easily roll their own LMS to suit their particular needs. In other words, instead of thousands working on Moodle, you may get emerging clusters of five to ten with nearly identical needs creating an LMS that serves unique local conditions.

It’s unclear even if will be necessary to share code from other open source LMSs to do this, or if borrowing concepts is enough and coding can be done from the ground up. This scenario begins to approximate many of the characteristics of open educational content–where there is not a one-size-fits-almost-all need like with big open source software successes like LINUX and Firefox, but rather lots of individual local needs. A situation where the concept is more important than the actual code. To say the least, I’m intrigued.