OpenFiction [Blog]

I feel like I write one thing…

and David hears another….

Steve (10/29):

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.

David (11/24):

Steve wrote persuasively that MIT OCW does not translate into cost savings, and that we probably shouldn’t look for cost savings in the OER context generally.


Steve (11/22)

In addition to the direct benefits of open licenses, they set (or continue) a community ethos that education is about sharing, and most of the universities that have come into the OCW movement have come in out of a commitment to the mission of disseminating knowledge. On a tactical level, the licenses are an important part of the “sell” to faculty considering participation. It’s an expression of the gift economy that educators have long participated in.

So, open licenses help to grease the wheels and do add some benefits (in some cases quite significant ones), and I don’t see huge cost savings in eliminating them. David is covering territory I’ve written about for a while (reference vs. remix uses of OCW). Finger in the wind, I’d say open licenses contribute to about a quarter to a third of end user benefit (if you include translations and aggregations such as in addition to individual uses of the licenses).

David (11/24):

I can kind of cope with it mentally when people not really involved in the space fail to differentiate between the benefits of (1) materials published on the public web and (2) open educational resources. But this conversation with Steve is a repeat of several conversations I’ve had lately. In many cases, people in-field can’t articulate a difference at all, which is disappointing but not depressing. In other cases, more articulate people clearly know the difference and seem to have rejected the necessity of open licenses.

I don’t know how much more clearly I can state:

  • I believe open texts and open journals have the potential to save money because they supplant an entrenched and failing industry; I don’t see the cost savings in OCW, and it does a disservice to both adopters of the practice and the movement as a whole to sell OCW on those merits.
  • I believe open licenses are an important part of OER both because they set a community standard of openness and because they allow for the materials to be modified and redistributed in ways that magnify the benefits of sharing the materials (in the case of MIT OCW, I’d say 1/3 to 1/4 of all benefits).
  • Based on the data I’ve seen, I believe that the bulk of the benefits of open licenses come from macro-level activities such as translation and redistribution that permit reference-based non-remix micro uses rather than the micro level rip-mix-burn by individual educators, although we do see some of this occurring.

I really feel like we are swinging from hyperbolic statement (If open education practitioners cannot move from large-scale sharing to large-scale adopting, the field is dead) to hyperbolic statement (if linking is adopting, every penny spent openly licensing has been wasted) with little connection to data.

It’s quite possible that open licenses are very valuable even if only a small minority of users take advantage of them. These may either be users that can have widespread impact, such as translators and redistributors, or they may be young innovators who will change future practice down the road. But let’s move from what we observe to an understanding of how the field is generating such remarkable impact, rather than starting from a conceptual notion (individual faculty saving money through rip-mix-burn) and when it doesn’t appear in practice claiming the sky is falling.

By the way, all the benefits listed in Table 4B of my previous post are benefits of open licenses, as they relate to faculty incorporating materials into their own courses.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

While we are on the subject…

Posted in Evaluation, MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Educational Resources by scarsonmsm on November 24, 2010

…of OCW benefits, I thought I’d share an internal resource from the OCW communication locker, our compilation of case study slides. This is not a presentation, but rather a set of cases studies designed to be used to tailor use cases in our other presentations for specific audiences. Each is a set of three slides, the full case for the speaker’s benefit study plus two slides intended to be actually used in the presentation. There’s also a cross-index at the front that sorts the external case studies by region and scenario of use.

I think the variety of benefits illustrated here demonstrates the complexity of talking about OCW benefits in the abstract, or event at the level of data such as that presented in my previous post. Anyway, also provided in the interest of getting more data out there to support informed discussion.

For those interested in communication best practices, the two presentation slides incorporate our basic “nugget” of mini-case study information: A basic statement of the use or (preferably) the benefit, followed by an illustrative quote. These nuggets are easy and low-effort to collect from our user feedback and surveys, and can be deployed in a number of ways (we have a standard e-mail reply that asks permission to use a quote and for a photograph).

The statements make nice one-liners in speeches (“from the teacher in Argentina who…to the student in China that…to the homeschooling parent in the US who…”). The quotes are also great in a wide variety of contexts, including slides as included here. The full case studies are harder to come by, requiring a follow-up interview and some dedicated writing time, but they are well worth the effort.

More open discussion

David Wiley responds to my previous post regarding cost savings through reuse of OCW materials. There are probably longer-winded answers, but…

1) The costs he describes as costs of openly licensing are actually the costs of licensing under any terms, including full copyright, and it wouldn’t cost any less to do full (C).

2) There are plenty of examples of how the CC licenses generate benefit, the largest (as I said in the post) was the translations that have made the OCW content available to huge non-English-speaking audiences. Lots of more granular examples exist, but are they the bulk of the use? No.

In addition to the direct benefits of open licenses, they set (or continue) a community ethos that education is about sharing, and most of the universities that have come into the OCW movement have come in out of a commitment to the mission of disseminating knowledge. On a tactical level, the licenses are an important part of the “sell” to faculty considering participation. It’s an expression of the gift economy that educators have long participated in.

So, open licenses help to grease the wheels and do add some benefits (in some cases quite significant ones), and I don’t see huge cost savings in eliminating them. David is covering territory I’ve written about for a while (reference vs. remix uses of OCW). Finger in the wind, I’d say open licenses contribute to about a quarter to a third of end user benefit (if you include translations and aggregations such as in addition to individual uses of the licenses).

I guess I’m also losing the point of the conversation here. I thought we were discussing whether cost savings were a compelling argument for doing OCW, but now we seem to be discussing whether there is an economic case for open licenses. There’s plenty to discuss in either case.

Awards for OpenCourseWare Excellence (ACE) call for nominations

Under the category of better late than never. My thanks to the Consortium staff for making up ground lost to my procrastination…

The OpenCourseWare Consortium is pleased to announce the call for nominations for the inaugural Awards for OpenCourseWare Excellence (ACE). The first OCW ACEs will be presented at the next global OpenCourseWare Consortium meeting in Cambridge, MA, USA, on the MIT campus May 4-6, 2011.

The Awards for OpenCourseWare excellence will recognize outstanding individual contributions to the OCW/OER movement, exemplary OCW member sites and excellent individual course presentations. ACE site and course winners will be selected by the award committee, and individual winners will be selected by a vote of the board of directors.

Nominations for individuals, sites and courses will be accepted through January 15, 2011 and may be submitted through the following page ( or by e-mailing Nominations for sites and courses are encouraged to be submitted as two-minute video/screen capture tours of the relevant content. Visit the above web page for complete information on preliminary criteria, rules and eligibility.

The OCWC is seeking volunteers to serve on the initial ACE Committee to refine award criteria and select award finalists. The Consortium is also seeking a sponsor for the awards ceremony at the upcoming Consortium meeting. For more information, please contact Stephen Carson: scarson at ocwconsortium dot org.

A decade of OCW benefits: Drawing talent to MIT OCW

Part of a series I’m writing this year in the run-up to the ten-year celebration:

In his junior year at Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas, Mat Peterson — now an MIT freshman — was struggling with his physics course. A friend of his recommended that he look at MIT OpenCourseWare, where Peterson turned to Walter Lewin’s videos and found the help he needed.

Read more…

MIT OpenCourseWare named WISE Award Laureate

Posted in media, MIT OpenCourseWare, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on November 15, 2010

Qatar Foundation selects OCW as a winner of the 2010 World Innovation Summit for Education Award

CAMBRIDGE, MA, November 15, 2010 — The Qatar Foundation announced today that MIT OpenCouseWare has been selected as one of six laureates for the 2010 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Award. Initiated in 2009, the WISE Award is designed to reward, showcase and support outstanding and innovative educational projects from across the world and from all educational sectors. WISE Awards 2010 reward initiatives under the theme of Transforming Education: Investment, Innovation and Inclusion.

Thirty finalists, including OCW, were selected from hundreds of applicants across 89 countries. The laureates were chosen by a panel of judges chaired by Dr Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Chairman of WISE, Qatar Foundation. The panel included Professor Jophus Anamuah-Mensah, Executive Chair of Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA); Dr Judith S. Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), USA; Mr Mike Gibbons CEO, Richard Rose Federation; Professor Fasli Jalal, Vice Minister of National Education, Indonesia; and Professor Zhou Qifeng, President, Peking University.

Other 2010 laureates include Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI) African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), South Africa; The Citizens Foundation, Pakistan; Mother Child Education Program (MOCEP),ACEV–Mother Child Education Foundation, Turkey; The Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio (Farm 98.0 FM), The Smallholders Foundation, Nigeria; and Rewrite the Future, Save the Children, UK.

“It’s a tremendous honor for MIT OpenCourseWare to be listed among such fine education projects from around the world,” says Associate Provost Philip Khoury, who oversees MIT’s strategic planning for international education and research, as well as the MIT OpenCourseWare program. “We are very pleased to have received this recognition from the Qatar Foundation and to have been selected by a panel of respected educational leaders with such a broad global perspective.”

On Wednesday, December 8, MIT OpenCourseWare Executive Director Cecilia d’Oliveira will speak at the Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, as part of a panel on Open Education Models. The Summit will bring together over 1,000 participants from many different walks of life and every corner of the world: eminent decision makers, educationalists, thought leaders, politicians and a wide range of public and private sector multistakeholders. Together they will continue fostering innovative collaborations and action-oriented initiatives, inspiring and spearheading creative change in the world of education.

About the Qatar Foundation

Qatar Foundation is dedicated to building human capital in a part of the world where the need and potential for human development are considerable. Through its threefold mission of education, scientific research and community development, it is helping build a sustainable society where the sharing and creation of knowledge will enhance quality of life for all. Qatar Foundation was established in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, as a vehicle to convert the country’s current, but temporary, mineral wealth into durable human capital.

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 70 million visitors have accessed the free MIT educational materials on the site or in translation.


Stephen Carson
External Relations Director
MIT OpenCourseWare
scarson at mit dot edu

Failure to define success

I guess the thing I’m feeling most strongly out of the most recent exchange over the issue of cost savings and OCW is my own failure to get more data out there about how OCW generates benefit. I have several years’ worth of survey data that we simply haven’t had the time to package up neatly and get out there, and so if we aren’t showing how it works, I guess we can’t complain when others attempt to define success for us.

So this is in small measure an attempt to insert some fact into the speculation. David is currently postulating that cost savings from adopting OER is the key benefit, and if that benefit isn’t generated the movement has failed. The data below is from a 2008 survey of OCW users with more than 5,000 self-selected respondents. Educators were 9% of respondents and so we are already looking at a small portion of overall traffic. How does this subsection of the audience use the content?

Graph showing educatior scenarios of use

As it turns out fewer than 1/3 are using it in a way that would require direct adoption (20.2% incorporating materials + 7.9% developing curriculum).  The other three modes of use—personal learning, learning new teaching methods and finding reference materials for students—have nothing whatsoever to do with adoption of materials in the way David describes (although the reference materials for students might be done via linking).

We can look even more granularly at these modes of use and the benefits they produce.  So, for example, personal learning, which is 30.5% of educator use:

Table of personal learnign uses

As can bee seen, educators use the site largely to learn new material, either within or outside their field, and secondarily to refresh their knowledge of the basics.  What are the benefits in doing this?

Table of  educator personal learning benefits

Mostly making them better teachers, it would seem, through the availability of better information and the motivation it provides.

What about learning new teaching methods, the second most prevalent mode of use in Table 1 at 22.9%?

Table of ways educators learn teaching methods

Primarily they learn new methods for themselves, and secondarily for their wider community of educators.  What benefits does this activity generate?

Table of teaching methods benefits

I’m sure this will be interpreted in some circles as promoting backwardness, but interestingly, most educators learning teaching methods from the site believe they become better lecturers, and only secondarily learning to make instruction more interactive or project based.

OK, onto the issue that has David’s attention, incorporation of materials at 20.2% of educator use.  What does this actually look like?

Table of incorporation modes

No surprise most faculty are incorporating materials into an existing course, which means the formats, approaches, language, etc. all have to be a pretty good match for direct adoption.  Interestingly, the second most prevalent way is looking for ideas on how to design a course, which may or may not be the kind of direct adaptation David is interested in.  The last mode, adoption for a new course seems to me to be the clearest path for adoption in the way David describes it.  And the benefits?

Table of adoption benefits

Time savings fall pretty low here, and cost savings even lower.  So the benefit David is focusing on is 37% (24.9% time + 12.1% cost) of 20.2% (% of educators incorporating materials) of 9% (% of educators) of the benefit we’ve identified.  That’s less than 1% of the benefit.  If indeed this is the key benefit of OCW, we are truly in trouble.

Let’s complete the data set with the student reference use (15.1% of educator use):

Table on educator refence uses

Largely, educators appear to use the materials to help students better learn concepts in the class or to study more advanced topics, and less for remedial work.  How do they characterize the benefits?

Table on reference benefits

Increased student learning and increased student motivation appear to be the key benefits here.

Finally, curriculum development, at 79% of overall educator use:

Table on curriculum development

Here is an even split between existing and new curriculum.  And the benefits?

Table on curriculum development benefits

Cost was not addressed directly in this instance (the possible benefits were generated through an analysis of open-ended questions regarding benefit in previous surveys).  Generously assuming all “other” responses to be cost- or time-savings related is still only 5.9%.

So scanning the benefits in all of the tables above, most of the responses have to do with increases in quality of instruction or learning, or with student and faculty motivation.  There are two ways to make a system more efficient, make it cost less or increase the output.  I don’t see a lot of evidence in this that OCW can make education cheaper (though open texts and open access journals may), but I see lots of evidence that it can help us all get more out of the investments we do make in education. The above analysis does not even take into consideration the benefits generated for students, who are 42% of our audience.

Of course there are things that could be said about the data–it’s self-selected, the benefits were preselected and incorporate bias, it represents what is rather than what should be and if OCW were more adoptable more people would adopt it…  All of these are likely true to an extent, and show just how difficult it is to conduct evaluation on a resource like OCW.  But I doubt the cumulative effect is enough to change the picture dramatically.

Why is this important enough to spill so many pixels over?  Because selling chickens as a source of milk will disappoint the customer.  If the institutional administrators, Department of Education staff, grantors, donors and other sources of support are brought in on the cost savings argument, and those savings fail to materialize, the movement will lose support.  For formal education, it’s very important that we actively promote OCWs ability to increase quality of education through transparency and open publication, and to also look for cost savings where they emerge.  If we are going to do OpenCourseWare, we ought to do it for what it does—increases the quality of education at our institution and provides educational opportunity for millions—not for what we wish it did.

Anyway, in future posts, I’ll share parallel data for students and independent learners.  But more immediately, I have a follow on case study to this educator data that illustrates how “adoption” is not simply plug-and-play or a matter of a few localizations, and why the impact is more quality and less money.

Call for Papers: OpenCourseWare Consortium Global 2011 Conference

May 4-6, 2011 • Cambridge, MA, USA

The OpenCourseWare Consortium invites session proposals for its 2011 global conference, Celebrating 10 Years of OpenCourseWare. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a worldwide community of universities and organizations committed to advancing OpenCourseWare and its impact on global education. The OpenCourseWare movement has grown significantly over the last decade; today there are 13,000 courses published by 150 universities.

We encourage submissions for sessions that highlight the impact of OpenCourseWare, summarize research, showcase best practices, discuss issues facing the community, and encourage thinking about the future of “open” learning. In keeping with the theme of the conference, we particularly welcome proposals that integrate accounts of OpenCourseWare’s evolution with next steps for the movement.


Impact of OpenCourseWare

The number and use of open courses has grown significantly in the past few years. What can we learn from what’s working? Sessions in this track might address:

  • How is OCW being used? Who is using it? For what are they using it?
  • What do analytics and evaluation say about OCW use?
  • What are innovative forms of OCW use? How might we better promote these new forms?
  • How does OCW, or open educational resources, integrate with traditional education systems?

Producing OpenCourseWare

OpenCourseWares continue to focus on making content available by putting course materials online. What are the challenges and solutions to the publication process? Sessions in this track might address:

  • What have we learned from a decade of publishing OCWs? What might we do differently with OCW production?
  • What have we learned about user interfaces and content navigation? How might we improve the user experience?
  • How do we increase usability of OCW?
  • How have OCWs used content management to support their publishing process?
  • What are the on-going challenges, and possible solutions, to continued production of OCWs?

Next Generation “Open” Learning

What does the next generation of “Open” learning look like? How does OpenCourseWare evolve in this emerging ecosystem? Sessions in this track might address:

  • How does OCW integrate into the ever-expanding landscape of “open” learning?
  • How do open textbooks and open educational resources impact OCW?
  • What are the impacts on institutional planning and administrative challenges with sustaining OCW?
  • What are the impacts on and potential for next generation OCW management systems?
  • How does OCW fit into Education 2.0? How are OCWs transforming and evolving to support Education 2.0?


Submissions Due: December 15, 2010 (11:59 pm Eastern Standard Time)

Acceptance Announcements: Week of January 17, 2011

Final Papers Due: February 22, 2011 (11:59 pm Eastern Standard Time)

Speaker Registration Deadline: March 15, 2011


Presentation: Presentations are traditional sessions by one or more authors that are designed to provide an in-depth examination of topic(s) of interest. Presentation proposals should include the intended audience and expected outcomes for the session.

Panel: Panels are moderated sessions of experts discussing a topic that are designed to give the audience different perspectives on that topic. Panels can be organized as a series of expert presentations, or as a more interactive roundtable discussion. Panel proposals should include the topics each panelist plans on addressing, intended audience and expected outcomes for the session.

Demonstrations/Poster Session: Demonstrations/poster sessions are designed to provide opportunities for informal discussions with colleagues about specific projects, including interactive and hands-on use. Poster/demonstration session should provide information on the project or topic that would be easy to understand in 5-15 minutes. Demonstration/poster session proposals should include the type of session and expected outcomes for the session.

Pre-conference Workshop: This year we will have a limited number of pre-conference workshops. Workshops are interactive sessions designed to address issues, tools, or topics of interest to the OpenCourseWare community. They should educate or train participants in a particular area. Examples include workshops on technology, demonstrations of OpenCourseWare tools, or processes for working with intellectual property issues. Workshop session proposals should describe the workshop content, intended audience and expected outcomes for the session. Workshop proposals should also indicate either whether the workshop is intended for 3 or 6 hours.

Submission Information

Session proposals will be submitted through the conference website, Submissions for the OCWC GLobal 2011 conference must include a short description (140 characters) and an extended abstract (500 words) about the proposed session. If your proposal is accepted, you will have the opportunity to submit a full paper that will be published in the conference proceedings.

Session proposals will be accepted in either English or Spanish. Proposal submissions in Spanish may also include an optional English translation (those submissions without translations will be translated by OCW Consortium staff for review by the program committee).

All presenters are required to register for the conference.

Review Criteria

We encourage proposals for sessions that are original, engaging, significant, clear and relevant.

Original: the session explores a new idea, project or issue; discusses existing research with promise of new insight, discusses new research; or presents new ways of considering existing information

Engaging: presentation format will involve the audience in some way, or has high potential to attract conference attendees by addressing needs of the community

Significant: the session raises and discusses issues important to improving the effectiveness and/or sustainability of open education efforts, and its contents can be broadly disseminated and understood

Quality: claims are supported by sufficient data; claims draw upon relevant literature; and limitations are described honestly

Clear: the intended outcomes of the session are easily understood; the proposal is well written with a clear outline of the session

Relevant: the session addresses one or more of the themes of the conference


All submissions and presentations must be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License ( By submitting a proposal you agree to these terms.