OpenFiction [Blog]

Of profiles and pop-ups

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on September 9, 2009

For as long as I’ve been evaluating the use of MIT OpenCouseWare, our highest-level user profile has been relatively consistent. Our first evaluation put educators at around 13% of our audience, students around 40%, and self learners at 53% (these figures are from memory).

The numbers shifted somewhat over the years, with educators moving steadily upward to 15%. Students settled somewhat lower to around 30%, and self learners fell to around 50%. The numbers all seemed to be moving in comfortably predictable trend lines.

At the same time, I knew as far back as 2006 that Firefox was skewing our data collection with its efficient pop-up blocker. In the notes from the report released that year, I described this impact. I also had it in my to-do list to implement a system that would correct for this issue.

For the 2009 survey I finally got a system implemented that did not rely on pop-ups, and while I understood that Firefox was having an impact, I didn’t understand the implications of the impact until after I looked over the numbers. What I might in retrospect have predicted but only became clear in data analysis was the differential adoption of Firefox across the user profiles.

Firefox, it turned out, was being adopted at a significantly higher rate by students than by educators or self learners.  In the 2009 survey, 57% or educators and self learners were using Firefox, while a staggering 67% of students reported using the browser.   As market share of Firefox among students grew, they were being disproportionately underrepresented in our survey results.

For the ’09 survey, the profile numbers are 9% educators, 42% students and 42% self learners.  This shift isn’t earth-shattering, I think, but it does raise some interesting questions.  With the old numbers, it could be easily argued that the predominance of MIT OpenCourseWare’s impact was in the informal learning sphere, and certainly US self learners continue to be the single biggest block of OCW users.  With the new numbers, it appears that OCW is having more of an impact on formal educational systems than has been apparent to date.

No doubt some of this impact in educational systems is “informal,” use of OCW as supplementary resources not directly incorporated into formal instruction.  Among both students and educators, enhancing personal knowledge (informal study) is a primary scenario of use.  But that informal study is occuring within a specific context, with other resources—libraries, peers, instructors—available.

It may be a while until I understand all of the implications of this, but I do think it means we need to look more closely on campus, and try to better understand how OCW-type resources are reshaping the formal educational experience.

3 Responses

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  1. ileaneb said, on September 9, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Hi Stephen,
    I am a self learner who found MIT’s OpenCourseWare about 6 years ago (way before Prof. Lewin hit it big on YouTube). I’m a visual learner so I watched as many of the video lectures as possible at the time. I always check back during the summer to see if any new courses have been added. I have found the experience very enjoyable. A few months back I read an article in Prism magazine (I’m a corporate ASEE member) about OCW and I felt pretty smart when I said to myself “this is old news, glad to see that others are finally catching on”. I wanted to let you know how much this program is greatly appreciated by a self learner from “back in the day”. I blogged about Prof. Lewin just last month. Keep up the excellent work! Thank you.

  2. scarsonmsm said, on September 10, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks. Definitely the most rewarding part of the whole experience of working on MIT OpenCourseWare has been speaking to the many people around the world who have benefited from the site. In particular I like to hear from folks who’ve come to the site for a number of years. The MIT faculty of course deserve the ultimate thanks and we pass messages like these along to them regularly, but on behalf of everyone involved–thanks! We’re glad the site is making a difference.

  3. On student use « OpenFiction [Blog] said, on September 15, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    […] OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on September 14, 2009 Some additional context around the issue of student use of MIT OpenCourseWare.  I happen to have had to pull together a basic profile of student use, the […]


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