OpenFiction [Blog]

Off-topic, and close to home

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 12, 2008

I haven’t written much about this here, but many of my friends in the OER community know that my son Daniel underwent treatment for kidney cancer a year and a half ago. Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about the state of research in the field of pediatric cancer. My wife and I will be forever grateful for the immense amount of research that’s been done with woefully little in the way of funding. Thanks to that research, the rates of cure for many childhood cancers are remarkably high. We also know through our contacts with other families with children battling cancer that those rates are not nearly high enough, and the treatments themselves are often far too damaging.

We’ve worked to raise what money we can for the wonderful people over at the Jimmy Fund Clinic, and will be participating in this fall’s Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. Last year, we raised over $10,000 as a team, and this year we hope to do better. Our team page can be found here, and you can read more about Daniel’s treatment on his CaringBridge site, where my wife has kept a remarkable journal of his treatment. We welcome support from friends and family–consider a donation or join us for the walk.

I’m also pleased to note the passage of the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, which also brings much-needed funding to pediatric cancer research. It’s a huge step in the right direction.

OCW survey responses

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 12, 2008

One of the absolute joys and privileges of my job here at OCW is getting the unfiltered e-mail and survey feedback. Here’s just a sampling of responses from our currently running survey describing the site’s impact:

“This site is like a dream coming true … Being a working mother from a developing country with no financial capabilities to have a respectful graduate study… I think this a site is like a gift I have been blessed with.. It’s something that Allah should be thanked for.. Thank you MIT Thank you… May you be blessed…”

“This site has played an incredibly large role in helping me understand the material in my physics class. It definitely helped my grade in my physics class last quarter. The lectures also helped make the material interesting more than any aspect of my physics class at school did.”

“Your program is amazing for someone like myself who would rather learn at my own pace. I can also read over the course descriptions and use the information relevant to my field of work. MIT Opencourseware is the future of learning for the betterment of mankind.”

“This site has had a great impact on my educational situation because I have been able to learn a tremendous amount about topics I am personally interested in. I am a frequent user of the business section (Sloan) because I am trying to supplement my engineer degrees with business context. I love the website soo much I have set it as my IE homepage. It’s been my homepage for the past 11 months.”

“This site has had a huge impact on my educational career. I have attended San Francisco City College over the last four years, and watching the mathematics and science courses posted on this website gave me the confidence that I could succeed in an elite physics program. I will begin upper division study of physics at Columbia this fall, and I plan on using this site to augment my math and physics education from City. Thank you so much!”

“A dream, it is the best definition. I have been studying almost all my life with few resourse centers. I am Brazilian, and I studied in Faculty far from big cities therefor far from good libraries and bookshops too. I feel almost in paradise here.”

“The OCW site has been influential in my decision to return to college after an absence of over 10 years. The quality of the course materials and the caliber of instruction is a tribute to MIT. I have used the site to prepare myself for courses that planned to take at my own university. I have also discovered that in most cases the knowledge I have gained through MIT’s OCW is both more substantial and applicable from that presented in my “real” classes. As a non traditional student, and someone who would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn at an institution like MIT, I am immeasurably grateful this website exists.”


Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 3, 2008

I’ve really been enjoying the Edupunk buzz, especially this recent post by Mike Caulfield (read past Iggy). Edupunk, though, is going to be quite limited if it allows itself to be defined as anti-anything, especially LMSs of all things. While Caulfield includes a lot of the negative, he does a good job of presenting the positive as well:

These Web 2.0 tools they adopted encouraged them to share their stuff with the world, instead of locking it away in a password protected course. And suddenly, they got a taste of open education. And it didn’t stop there. The tools they adopted had a true web DNA, and played well with other tools in a loosely coupled mode. So suddenly, they got a taste of what it was like to build your own custom learning environment.

And so on. They started to experience the creativity that the web can unleash, and experienced for the first time that connectivist thrill people had been going on about.

And it was then, with their courses out on the net for all to see, having developed WordPress pages that mashed together video with slideshares with twitter updates and feeds, having witnessed students commenting on posts right next to people from across the world, having seen authors of books responding to their student’s reader response essays, directly —

It was then that it hit these people. Blackboard was never a learning tool.

And while I make no claims to the Edupunk mantle, the Edupunk vision is very consistent with my own views on and experiences with LMSs and Web 2.0 tools:

The whole idea that learning can be “managed” from a central system may even seem to be a strange notion in ten years. Instead of centrally creating a secure digital learning space for teachers and students, as we do now, the default may be that students and teachers come together in self-organizing digital spaces of their own design, where the various elements of the participants’ digital personas (blogs, vlogs, wikis, websites, facebooks, fileshares and linklists) come together via aggregation tools of their choosing. In as much as the physical classroom depends on the unique contributions of both the teacher and the students to produce the character of the learning experience, so too the digital learning experience may utlimately depend greatly on the ways in which the students project themselve into cyberspace, and the walls of an LMS may be a barrier to this.

The elements of current LMS that I found to be of most use were basically the administrative tools, and those might eventually atrophy to be the only elements that remain, if at all, as small parts of school’s student information systems. Even these are not that hard to replecate externally, with the exception of direct links to enrollment lists in administrative systems and the reporting back of grades–—though who knows, a secure RSS feed might allow even that to happen in multiple environments.

So how does this affect opencourseware publication? I’d suggest in two ways. Because it ultimately points to a situation in which learning becomes a less digitally stable undertaking—–something more fluid, with learning experiences created and dismantled rapidly and outside of any central control—–opencourseware publication can serve as an organizing principle around which learning experiences can be documented. The process of gathering materials and publishing a “snapshot” of the materials can provide a stable point of reference for future learning experiences.

Second (and this again is an idea that draws on Stephen Downes’ thinking), opencourseware may become less about providing reusable and repurposable materials that are then somehow “localized” by others, and more about providing a fertile soil for future learning experiences as old materials decompose. In trying to imagine how I might use opencourseware content in my future teaching, it seems to me if I know of a resource reasonably close to my own needs that exists at a stable URL, I would likely point to it in a blog post and provide any necessary annotation for my class in the post, rather than try to download it and edit it directly.