OpenFiction [Blog]

The OED goes virtual

Posted in Personal by scarsonmsm on August 30, 2010

While I am generally not that sentimental about the physical passing into the digital, I have to admit a moment of sadness for this one: It appears the 3rd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will never make it into print. I own a copy of the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th ed, which hopefully will still have future editions printed.

It’s understandable, since the full OED is 20 volumes. It’s essentially the same waste of paper as printing phone books (which I do wish would pass away), but there is something about the act and discipline of looking up the meaning of a word in a physical dictionary—reading the associated meanings, the words that surround it on the page—that makes the experience uniquely worth the effort. It’s also reassuring to know out there on physical paper somewhere is a reference that contains the meanings and histories in exhaustive detail of the words we use to create and dissect our world.

In our reading room at home, I have a dictionary on a book stand open and ready (it actually holds a copy of the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, which is also quite good). I had the pleasure this weekend of helping my eight year-old daughter look up the word umbrage, as we were discussing the names of professors in the Harry Potter book she was reading. She worked through the alphabetical listing, stopped at other words that interested her, discussed the various nuances of the definition of umbrage (I was unaware of the shading/overshadowing meaning).

I’d hate to think such experiences are passing into the mists of the digital age.

Just go to class

Posted in Evaluation, MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on August 27, 2010

We’re often asked if OCW has impacted attendance in MIT classes, and the statistics from our surveys say no (<4% of faculty who've published report subsequent drops in attendance). Here's why, from an advice column to new MIT students in today’s Tech:

Go to class. This might seem rather obvious to some people, but when you’ve gone to bed at 5 a.m. and woken up at 8 a.m., this concept might evade your logic. Borrowing class notes from classmates or trying to learn the material online is no substitute for actually attending lecture and recitation. Some classes, such as 3.091, record lectures and put them online later that day; in this case, there is really no difference as to whether you attend the class or watch it online, as long as you really do watch it if that’s what you choose. However, I would advise against relying on MIT’s Open CoursWare (OCW) lectures from previous years, since some content may differ or the class may proceed at a different rate. OCW is a great resource, but it won’t get you a degree.

Driving traffic to OCW

One facet of my job is to manage media relations for MIT OpenCourseWare, doing the typical work of responding to inquiries and writing press releases, and also working proactively to get coverage of the site. Historically, media coverage has been a pretty good driver of traffic to the site, with articles in the New York Times, AP, and Christian Science Monitor leading to big spikes in traffic. The big jumps in the chart below at the beginning of 2007 and 2008 are just such media hits. In the last couple of years, however, media coverage hasn’t resulted in the kinds of big traffic jumps we’ve seen in the past.

Graph of MIT visits since 10/2003, starting at 250,000 and ending at 1,500,000

In part, this is because Open Educational Resources has become a much larger and more vibrant field than when we started our OCW, and I’ve always said this was the only business where you could feel good about losing market share. In many of the recent articles, we are either one of a number of resources discussed, or simply included as a background reference when talking about another resource. I think we’ve also managed to saturate the audience that frequents major news outlets as well.

What has been driving traffic to OCW lately is social media sites such as Reddit and StumbleUpon. A good example is this Reddit hit from last week:

Redit tag reading in part "MIT offers free online course materials including video lectures..."

Not calling out a specific resource, just a general, “Hey, didja know?” but nonetheless got voted up and drove an impressive amount of traffic to our site:

Screenshot of Google Analytics 8/15 to 8/20 showing 100% increase in traffic on 5/18

We more or less doubled traffic to the site on the day it hit, 82% of the Reddit visitors had never been to the site before, and 54% stayed for more than one page. I am not sure how you build an awareness strategy around this, as I’m sure you can really piss off a web community if they feel like you are gaming their referrals, but it definitely shows the power of these social media sites in driving high-quality traffic.

TIME Magazine selects MIT OpenCourseWare as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2010

OCW shares honor with LinkedIn, TEDTalks, National Geographic, The Onion, Mayo Clinic and others

TIME 50 Best Websites Banner

CAMBRIDGE, MA, August 25, 2010 –TIME Magazine has named MIT OpenCourseWare ( one of the 50 Best Websites of 2010. Selected by the editors of, MIT OpenCourseWare shares the honor with such notable and well-known websites as LinkedIn, Etsy, The Daily Beast, The Guardian, Mint, Groupon, LiveMocha and TEDTalks. Here is the full list of TIME’s 50 Best Websites of 2010.

“It’s truly remarkable to see MIT OpenCourseWare listed beside these other well-known sites,” says Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, Chair of OCW’s Faculty Advisory Committee. “It really speaks to the impact the site is having not only on the individuals who use it, but on the culture of the web as a whole. It highlights the opportunities the Web provides for free and open sharing of knowledge. The MIT community should be very proud.”

This recognition continues a string of recent honors for MIT OpenCourseWare. In July MIT OpenCourseWare was named as a recipient of the prestigious SPORE award from the journal Science, and was featured in that magazine’s July 30th issue. In 2009, OCW’s Highlights for High School portal was named a Landmark Website for Teaching and Learning by the American Association of School Librarians.

About OpenCourseWare

An OpenCourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high quality university-level educational materials – often including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and exams – organized as courses. While OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiatives typically do not provide a degree, credit, or certification, or access to instructors, the materials are made available under open licenses for use and adaptation by educators and learners around the world.

About MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare makes the materials used in the teaching of substantially all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses—more than 2,000 in all—available on the Web, free of charge, to any user in the world. OCW receives an average of 1.5 million web site visits per month from more than 215 countries and territories worldwide. To date, more than 65 million visitors have accessed the free MIT educational materials on the site or in translation.

OpenStudy early returns

Just returned from a vacation and took a peek at the OpenStudy courses. Thrilled to see the uptake on the channels:

MIT 6.00 Intro Computer Science – 726 subscribers
MIT 18.01 Single Variable Calculus – 649 subscribers
MIT 21F.101 Chinese I – 88 subscribers

Beyond the number of subscribers, the amount of discussion underway is really impressive. A good start for this pilot.

Loving this series by Ethan Watrall

Posted in open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on August 21, 2010

While I (obviously) think institutional OpenCourseWare efforts are great, I’m also a strong believer that individuals can and should publish courseware openly, and I practice what I preach. This series of posts by Ethan Watrall on the Chronicle of Higher Education site are great for the practical advice they give to individual educators:

Developing a Personal OpenCourseWare Strategy
Checklist for an OpenCourseWare Semester

Well worth the read if you are considering sharing your course without an institutional effort underway.

Great article

Posted in open access, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on August 13, 2010

This is one of the better articles I’ve read recently on open educational practices (as opposed to the narrower field of open educational content, which is my particular patch of the weeds). I’m struggling to find which of the excellent passages to quote, but I’ll take from the conclusion placing open courses in the wider context:

Open courses are not a new way to pass on knowledge from the initiated to the acolyte. Rather, they are an acknowledgment that passing knowledge from one to another is not, and has never been, the primary goal of the academy. The academy seeks to grow knowledge by engaging learners and members of society in a discussion, an exploration. Open courses permit educators and a global network of learners to participate in research, learning, and sense-making around a given topic. In opening our doors to collaborative participation, we are making a value judgment about what we want higher education to be and are also, perhaps, opening the door to new research, learning, and business models of our own.

Definitely worth reading the whole piece.

I’ll pair that with this article, which headlines the New York Times today, in which Alzheimer’s researchers seem astounded to learn that sharing data openly leads to progress:

At first, the collaboration struck many scientists as worrisome — they would be giving up ownership of data, and anyone could use it, publish papers, maybe even misinterpret it and publish information that was wrong.

But Alzheimer’s researchers and drug companies realized they had little choice.

“Companies were caught in a prisoner’s dilemma,” said Dr. Jason Karlawish, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “They all wanted to move the field forward, but no one wanted to take the risks of doing it.”

Go figure.

MIT OpenCourseWare pilots study groups with OpenStudy

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on August 3, 2010

MIT OpenCourseWare has paired up with OpenStudy to offer study groups in association with three OCW courses. Developed by researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory, and funded by the NSF and NIH, OpenStudy is a unique platform for collaborative learning. Try it out yourself: