OpenFiction [Blog]

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.

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.

One Response

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  1. […] post generated several comments, and I want to respond specifically to comments from Stephen and Stephen.Both Stephens agree that my idea of adoption, which involves revising and remixing, is […]

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