OpenFiction [Blog]

The African Virtual University joins leading global universities to support OpenCourseWare’s future

AVU pledges funds to support OpenCourseWare Consortium

Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 25, 2010 – The African Virtual University (AVU) joins a core group of leaders in the OpenCourseWare community by pledging $25,000 over the next five years to support the OpenCourseWare Consortium, the non-profit association of global OpenCourseWare supporters. Other members pay annual dues of US $50 to $500 dollars to ensure the Consortium has the funding necessary to catalyze the development and use of OpenCourseWare content worldwide.

This furthers the African Virtual University’s substantial commitment to open education and is an investment in the effort to create a shared body of open educational resources that spans cultures and regions. “We’re pleased to have the African Virtual University join other leading OCW publishers in making a strong statement about the value of OpenCourseWare and the Consortium,” said Consortium President Stephen Carson. “Through the AVU’s contribution, the Consortium will continue to lend support to universities worldwide in publishing their educational materials.”

The African Virtual University is a recognized leader in the OpenCourseWare community. Through the OER@AVU portal (, the African Virtual University plans to share educational materials from dozens of AVU courses, with materials from four courses already available. The OER@AVU will serve as a platform to publish the 219 modules of Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry; ICT Basic Skills and Teacher Education Professional courses that were developed and released as Open Education Resources (OERs) through the African Development Bank (AfDB)- and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-funded Teacher Education Program.

The AVU’s OER Repository will also serve as a platform for tertiary-level African educators to make their educational resources available to others, discuss and comment on them, and collaborate in developing them further. It will host all of the AVU’s open education resources in areas such as Business Studies, Computer Sciences, Agriculture and Environment studies. The AVU’s new OER Repository, branded OER@AVU, is supported by the African Development Bank

The African Virtual University has been a member of the OpenCourseWare Consortium since September 30. 2010. In describing AVU’s rationale for making this commitment to the OCW Consortium the AVU’s Rector, Dr. Bakary Diallo, noted, “For more than 13 years, the AVU has worked across borders and language barriers in Africa to improve education. This pledge cements our commitment to ensuring that Africa continues to fully benefit from the gobal Open Education Movement”

In addition to the African Virtual University, the following universities and organizations have each pledged US $25,000 over five years in support of the OpenCourseWare Consortium: China Open Resources for Education (China), Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands), Japan OpenCourseWare Consortium (Japan), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (United States), Korea OpenCourseWare Consortium (Korea), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States), Open Universiteit (the Netherlands), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), Tufts University (United States), (Spain), Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain), University of California, Irvine (United States), University of Michigan (United States), and University of the Western Cape (South Africa).

To date the approximately 200 organizations of the OCW Consortium have published materials from more than 13,000 courses, available through the Consortium’s Web site . These materials are freely available on the web as resources to support informal and formal teaching and learning worldwide, and have received an estimated 100 million visits from virtually every country and region in the world.


The AVU configured a conceptual framework and architecture – the OER@AVU Architecture – through which the creation, organization, dissemination and utilization of OERs is expected to lead to the development of a dynamic, rational and comprehensive strategy for collaborative partnerships for African higher education and training institutions. The OER@AVU strategy recognizes the importance of collaborative partnerships in advocating and raising awareness for OERs in the African Higher Education Sector. By involving African institutions in the OER evolutionary process, the AVU intends to address the issues pertaining to epistemological, ideological, cultural and social relevance as well as reduce technological challenges; while enabling the institutions to participate actively so that they drive and own the process in terms of form content, structure and orientation.

About the OpenCourseWare Consortium

The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 200 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. The mission of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is to advance formal and informal learning through the worldwide sharing and use of free, open, high-quality education materials organized as courses. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

About OpenCourseWare

OpenCourseWare (OCW) is course materials—typically including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, exams and occasionally videos of classroom activities—openly published on the web for reuse and redistribution by educators and learners around the world.

For more information, please contact:

meena at ocwconsortium dot org

Haunted by the ghosts

A couple of difficulties is talking about OER:

One: “Open educational resources” represents a broad and diverse field of practices that function in a range of ways, and to speak of them as a unified whole (unintentionally or intentionally) or expect them all to function in the same way is to confuse apples with oranges.

Two: Since OER is a relatively new field, and grew out of a number of precedents including open source software, open content and learning objects, one of the consistent issues I see arise is that people tend to projects their agendas from other realms onto the relatively blank slate of OER, rather than looking at what is actually going on.

I see both of these issues at work in David’s latest installment on OER adoption. Being unable to travel either to OpenEd or the Asia OCW Conference this year, I find myself with time to unpack how the issues above are at work in his response.

Disposing of the first issue above, throughout the post, David treats OER as a unified whole that must have a unified goal–in this case saving money. I do hope that OER will be able to generate some cost savings, and I see the best opportunities for this in open access journals and open text books. These would seem to offer savings opportunities, though, not because of their relationship to formal education, but because of their relationship to a media industry that is struggling to make its peace with the digital environment, and not doing a good job.

OpenCourseWare is different (at least in the higher ed realm) in that there is no significant media industry out there making money on the sales of course content alone. Outside of The Learning Company’s videos of lectures and a few other niche products, OCW hasn’t been trying to supplant some other for-profit producer that’s been raising prices on paying customers to offset losses due to digital copying as journal and textbook publishers have. That’s what has enabled OCW to spread as widely as it has and what makes it an effective wedge to begin discussions of open sharing on campuses. The success of OCW at MIT no doubt made the discussion of an MIT open access publishing policy easier to have. To lump OCW together with other OER and say the point of the thing is cost savings is a mistake.

On the second issue above, a common rhetorical device I often see in discussions of OCW, and one David uses here, is:

1) The value of OCW is (insert agenda here).
2) There is no evidence of (agenda).
3) Therefore OCW is unsuccessful.

David employs this in asking:

How many displacing adoptions are happening inside MIT thanks to the existence of MIT OCW? Since their OCW is the largest of them all, they could potentially be saving their students more money than anyone else. I’d love to see some data on this out of MIT OCW.

Is there evidence that MIT is saving MIT students money with OCW?  Not a lot. Does this lack of evidence mean that OCW doesn’t benefit MIT students? No, and we’ve actually documented considerable benefits for MIT students generated by the site. 93% of undergraduates and 82% of graduates use the site; 70% of MIT students use the site materials to compliment those they receive in class, 46% use it as a course planning tool, and 39% use it for personal learning; 58% of students rate the site’s impact on student experience as “extremely positive” or positive” and only 4% indicate no positive impact. Lots of benefit, just not the particular benefit of cost savings, which is David’s interest.

From a broader perspective, there’s no doubt that OCW and other OER are producing tangible benefit on a relatively large scale. Millions of people are accessing the materials and hundreds of universities are sharing open educational resources. I suppose its possible that these millions are people we don’t really want to serve and that all these universities have been duped and deluded into believing there is some benefit for them in sharing their materials as they are when there really isn’t. Or it’s possible that lots and lots of people are being helped by the open sharing of educational materials and that there really are tangible benefits for universities even if they turn out to be not the ones that we were expecting.

I learned this early on in my experience with OCW. If your asked 2003-vintage me what the benefits of the project would be, I’d have said, “Oh, definitely, with faculty reusing the content. This is stuff someone is going to have to take and modify and teach in a classroom. It’s not stuff you just dive into without guidance.” When the early returns from our surveys indicated half the people visiting our site had no connection to a university, either as a faculty member or student, I decided it was a better idea to look at what the data was saying rather than guess how I thought the resource would be useful. After all, you can beg a chicken all day for milk and she’s only ever going to give you eggs, but eggs are pretty good too.

Is OCW useful to formal higher education? I’d say the data indicates it is. After all, if 50% of our visitors are not associated with a university, that means that about 50% are. That’s a lot of people, 400-500K a month to the MIT OpenCourseWare site alone, and from virtually every higher ed institution out there. We’ve gotten 2,600 visits this year from BYU, not all of which I assume are coming from David. Have we documented a raft of cost-saving opportunities for faculty and students at other universities? Again, not a lot. One third of students at other schools are using OCW to complement materials from their enrolled classes, and 12% of those indicate the site has saved them money in doing so. That’s a relatively small portion of the overall use. Does this mean there are no benefits?

If I had to put a stake in the ground on how OCW generates benefit for others, right now I’d say primarily as a reference tool that is used for a range of academic activities, including independent (not distance) learning, curricular planning and development, supplements to classroom learning, academic planning, and professional development and problem-solving. Interestingly, many of these benefit from accessing the materials in situ, embedded in the OCW site and MIT curricular structure, rather than disaggregated and localized. Thus, linking is a better strategy to support many of these activities.

David discusses at length the evils of linking, making absolute (and intentionally provocative) statements that in his mind follow from reliance on it at the expense of remix/reuse:

If linking is going to constitute the primary method of adopting OER, every penny spent on the process of openly licensing material for OCW or OER publication has been wasted.


When you define “adoption” as linking, there is literally no need to concern yourself with licensing or openness. When you define adoption as linking, you undermine everything that separates OER from the other resources on the web.

Here again, only true if you believe adoption and localization by individual faculty members is the primary reason for the open licenses. If you take a view that reference uses are a large part of the benefit, and you look at the area where the open licenses have been employed to greatest effect, it becomes clear that the licenses are quite important. Since we launched the site, more than 800 translations of our courses have been made into a range of languages. My best estimate is that back-of-the-envelope these represent about $10 million in funds and effort contributed by other organizations, and all made possible by the open licenses. They’ve attracted a huge amount of traffic–at least 30 million visits–and I would guess that most of the use on the other side of the language divide has been largely reference rather than remix as well. Licenses are a vital part of providing additional access to the content.

How does OCW benefit MIT if not through cost? Right now I’d say largely though transparency. MIT as an institution has better visibility into what it teaches and how; faculty teaching advanced courses understand more about what their students learn in foundational courses. Faculty also likely improve their materials in preparing them for open publication; they definitely make new connections based on the open publication; they increase their own professional standing and that of their departments. Students at MIT make much better academic decisions and understand how their chosen field relates to other disciplines (crucial in addressing cross disciplinary challenges like energy, cancer and environmental preservation); before they come to MIT, they have a better idea of what the academic experience at MIT will be like through visiting the site. Does any of this make MIT any cheaper? Maybe at the margins. Does it make MIT better? No doubt.

Of dog food and red herring

David Wiley recently asked in a post why more OCW/OER “producers” aren’t “consumers,” repeating the “we need to eat our own dog food” trope. I’d suggest that big producers of OCW tend to be big consumers of OCW as well, just not in the canonical method of using open course materials in the next generation of course materials via the rip mix burn model favored by folks who cut their digital learning teeth on the learning object model. Stephen Downes points out in response to David’s post (3rd item down) that “adoption” should probably be thought of a little more flexibly. I’ve previously suggested that blog-like linking makes sense for OER for a number of reasons as well.

David asserts that any university committed to OER should be using other schools’ OER in their own classes. This too is a bit of orthodoxy that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’m sure it will be described as “arrogance” to assert MIT profs are likely to reuse materials primarily from the MIT site, but I believe educators will adopt the materials most suited to the academic needs of their students and the academic structures of their programs, to the technologies at use on their campus, and to the cultures in which their educational activities are embedded. There’s less localization needed that way. I’ve articulated this as the idea of nearest approximations. And what is the nearest OER approximation to the needs of an MIT professor? Likely, materials on the MIT OpenCourseWare site. So I’d suggest that to understand if MIT “eats its own dog food,” it makes more sense to look at MIT use of the MIT OpenCourseWare site (and in a broader way than the rip-mix-burn model).

A couple of data points:

169,874 – the number of visits to MIT OpenCourseWare so far this year from the domain, with peak usage during registration week. (next higherst .edu domain is Harvard at 13,560)
7,008 – the number of visits this year directly from the MIT LMS Stellar to MIT OpenCourseWare
3,681 – the number of “reused” third party objects in the MIT OpenCourseWare publication (third party objects we’ve cleared for prior OCW course publication that reappear in materials submitted for new course publications–often these come from courses other that the ones we originally cleared the materials for)

A Google search on “” yields 20,900 links from other MIT sites to MIT OpenCourseWare. Many of these are related to OCW news or administration, but you don’t have to search too far to find links from course pages using OCW as supplementary or even primary materials.

Click to access course_info_Spring10.pdf

Click to access mathnotes2.pdf

It would also be interesting to know if MIT profs are using or linking to other OER, but it’s a little harder to get at that data, and I’d guess for the reasons stated above our site is likely their first stop. But if using the MIT OpenCourseWare site isn’t somehow an illegitimate reuse of OER, and we expand the “how” of reuse to be a little wider than direct adaptation into new course materials, then I could make a case that MIT is actually the biggest institutional reuser of OER out there. Just that most of it is from MIT.

But even more broadly, to suggest that adoption in David’s model is the live-or-die measure of the movement is to ignore the bulk of non-institutional benefits OCW provides. Public health workers around the world benefit from the materials Johns Hopkins and Tufts have published. We’ve spoken to entrepreneurs in Haiti who’ve used MIT’s materials to further their solar panel business, bringing light to some of Haiti’s poorest neighborhoods; to NGOs designing locally appropriate recycling technologies for Guatemala with OCW; and to educators in Indonesia recasting their architecture curriculum using ours as a reference. None of this has anything to do with the narrowly defined sandbox of OER reuse/remix that David points to, which is a pretty limited measure of the movement’s success.

This month, a million individuals will visit the MIT OpenCourseWare site. Only 9% of those will be educators; only half of those educators will be doing anything like adoption of content; a small, small percentage of those will be from universities that publish OER, including MIT. My bet is the key benefits that will dictate the success of the movement lie elsewhere.

ReadWriteWeb covers OCW/OpenStudy

Audrey Watters over at ReadWriteWeb has a really nice writeup on the OCW/OpenStudy collaboration, which continues to grow at an impressive rate. The 6.00 group is over 3200 members, the Single Variable Calculus group has hit 2500, and nearly all of the more recently introduced ones have participants in the hundreds. Thanks for the coverage, Audrey!

NYU Open Learning launches

Posted in Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare, Video by scarsonmsm on October 18, 2010

NYU has launched their Open Education site with two courses featuring full video. The description of the pilot includes an outline of NYU’s ambitious agenda for integrating these materials with their regular student experience:

  • Public Content: With public content as the core objective of the pilot, plans are underway to begin publishing the first round of open content online for Fall 2010.
  • Student Interaction with Content: The longer term vision for the project aims to enable the use of tools for online discussion, annotation, bookmarking, and other capabilities that can add to the effectiveness of students’ online experience. These new forms of student participation – which would accompany face‐to‐face classes, peer‐to‐peer interaction, and office‐based faculty mentoring – could eventually be included in a student’s grades in particular courses.
  • Reuse and Extensibility of Course Content: With the number of NYU’s global sites doubling in the past five years, the potential for technology to aid the delivery of background lectures across the globe is growing, the potential for re‐use of course content is growing. For example, recordings of high‐quality introductory lectures given by NYU faculty could be assigned to new students for review prior to the first class meeting, regardless of location. This reuse of content could also help to free up “seat” time, as high-consensus content could be provided online, leaving more time for increased student participation in face‐to‐face class discussion.
  • NYU Outreach: One additional objective of the project is to enhance the world‐wide exposure of the high quality scholarship at NYU. A recent survey of incoming freshmen conducted by MIT found that “35 percent of MIT freshmen who knew about the OpenCourseWare initiative reported that availability of the materials significantly influenced their decision to attend the institution.”

The Internet is what you make of it

Posted in open education, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on October 14, 2010

I haven’t seen The Social Network yet, and probably won’t until it comes out on Netflix, but I haven’t missed the hype. It’s interesting to me that Facebook grew up at Harvard right around the same time that OpenCourseWare grew up at MIT, and I can’t help but feel that both are expressions of the institutions which nurtured them.

This is not either to denigrate Harvard, which is obviously a remarkable institution, or to place MIT on a pedestal, but just to point out that for different cultures, the Internet suggests different things. There’s no doubt that the social connections you make at a school like Harvard or MIT are an important part of the value of attending. At Harvard though, it feels like the connections are more self-consciously a major part of the experience–you go to Harvard to make connections and connections are how you go to Harvard. No surprise that Facebook might emerge in this kind of environment.

No doubt people make connections at MIT as well, but I was surprised when I came here to learn about MIT’s admissions and financial aid policies, its commitment to meritocracy and number of first generation college attendees. Relative to Harvard (and again, not putting MIT on a pedestal) MIT is more about what you can do, how well you can think, rather than the connections you have. In this environment, with a commitment to equality of access, OpenCourseWare seems like a natural opportunity to see in the Internet.

Certainly Facebook and OpenCourseWare are not the only two ways academic environments could be expressed in cyberspace, and there are plenty of other institutions out there with unique facets of their character that might suggest other directions. What is it about your institution that is waiting to be expressed in an online effort?

OpenStudy & MIT OpenCourseWare on CNN

Our groups on OpenStudy continue to grow at a tremendous rate. The largest is now up to 2,200 members. The OpenStudy crew was recently interviewed by CNN, and I hear a rumor that Fox News is next. Thanks for the props, Ashwin.