OpenFiction [Blog]

A whole new school?

Looking at the stats from the OpenStudy groups linked to MIT OpenCourseWare, I see there are ~12,000 unique registrants, and about ~18,000 “participants” in group discussions (meaning each individual on average participates in 1.5 groups).

MIT itself has ~10,000 students. Working with OpenStudy, we’ve created a free, peer-facilitated, non-credit learning community on the scale of the Institute itself. Too bad that–with the notable exception of iLabs–we don’t have the capacity to share facilities as widely as educational content.

Don’t know much about history

Still working on the OCW timeline, which will be used for the MIT OpenCourseWare 10th anniversary and the OpenCourseWare Consortium meeting.  Got some of the post-2007 stuff in, but still very MIT focused.  If you have non-MIT stuff please fee free to log on and edit or e-mail me.

MIT OpenCourseWare Announces New Course Materials to Support Independent Learners

With support from the Stanton Foundation, OCW publishes free foundational course materials structured for independent study.

Cambridge MA, January 12, 2011 — Today, MIT OpenCourseWare launched beta versions of five courses that represent a significant new approach to openly sharing educational resources. Dubbed “OCW Scholar” courses, these materials are designed from the start for independent learners who have few additional resources available to them. The courses are substantially more complete than typical OCW courses and include new custom-created content as well as materials repurposed from MIT classrooms. The materials are also arranged in logical sequences and include multimedia such as video and simulations.

With the support of the Stanton Foundation, OCW will publish a total of twenty such courses in the next three years, focused on introductory college-level science, mathematics, technology and other foundational subjects. The first five courses in the OCW Scholar series are 8.01SC Physics I: Classical Mechanics, 8.02SC Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism, 18.01SC Single Variable Calculus, 18.02SC Multivariable Calculus, and 3.091SC Introduction to Solid State Chemistry. These courses are OCW’s first attempt at this new format, and the OCW team will be actively seeking user feedback.

“When we first launched OCW, the number of independent learners using the site was a big surprise to us. They were forty to fifty percent of our visitors,” says Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, OWC’s Faculty Advisory Committee Chair. “The site was originally envisioned as a set of resources for other educators to use in their classrooms. We didn’t consider OCW a distance learning program—and we still don’t—but we do feel we identified an unmet demand for independent learning opportunities, and that’s what OCW Scholar seeks to address.”

OCW Scholar courses still follow the OpenCourseWare model. They are content-based resources provided at no cost that do not offer certification or interaction with MIT faculty or students. The content is drawn from materials used in MIT classes, although unlike the regular OCW publication, OCW Scholar courses may combine resources from across a number of MIT courses and incorporate additional resources created specifically for OCW Scholar publication. The OCW Scholar courses complement the regular OCW publication but do not replace it.

“We’re still committed to publishing MIT’s materials as we always have,” say OCW Executive Director Cecilia d’Oliveira, “and our core publication continues to provide tremendous value to educators and students around the world. With OCW Scholar, we are enhancing our support for independent learners and building on what we’ve accomplished with the rest of the site.”

The OCW Scholar courses are also being supported by OCW’s pilot program with OpenStudy, which began last year. OpenStudy groups allow users of the OCW Scholar sites to collaborate with one another, so while there is no opportunity to contact MIT faculty or students, OCW Scholar visitors still have a resource to turn to for answers to questions and opportunities for discussion with fellow learners.

“We’re hoping to create a truly scalable resource,” says MIT OpenCourseWare Publication Director Daniel Carchidi, who oversaw the team creating the OCW Scholar courses. “These courses aren’t intended to be the equivalent of classroom-based learning, or even distance learning, but they are scalable in a way that those learning opportunities are not. An almost limitless number of people can access and learn from OCW Scholar courses.”

About Frank Stanton

The Stanton Foundation was created by Frank Stanton, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest executives in the history of electronic communications. Hired by CBS in 1935 on the strength of his PhD dissertation in the nascent field of audience research, he became president of CBS at age 36. During his 25 years as president he turned an also-ran radio network into a broadcasting powerhouse.

Stanton’s contributions to the industry and the society it served were numerous. In 1960, for example, Stanton initiated the first televised presidential debates—the famous Nixon-Kennedy “Great Debates”—which required a special Act of Congress before they could proceed. These debates are widely credited with giving Kennedy his margin of victory, and have become a staple of American presidential campaigns.

As president of CBS, he created CBS Labs, where, under the leadership of Peter Goldmark, the LP record and the first commercial color broadcasting system were invented. He spearheaded the creation of the first coast to coast broadcasting system, allowing CBS to become the first network to present a live coast-to-coast news event, a speech by President Truman at the opening of the Japanese Peace Conference in San Francisco. Frank Stanton was the commencement speaker at MIT in 1961.

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 initiatives typically do not provide a degree, credit, or certification, or access to instructors, OCW 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 total—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.

When good things happen at OCW…

…you can be sure I wasn’t involved.  The MIT faculty rightly gets most of the credit for OCW—it was the faculty’s idea and the faculty provides the content—but there’s also an amazing group of people who put heart and soul into publishing the faculty materials, and they get far less attention than they deserve.  I had the privilege of working on the publication team early in the project, but now on the external relations side, I can only stare down the hallway in awe of the work that these folks do.

Today, they’ve completed what I personally think is the single most exciting thing we’ve done since completing the initial publication of the MIT curriculum, the publication of the first round of our new OCW Scholar courses.  These courses represent an additional level of involvement by the MIT faculty, but they also represent a huge amount of work by the publication team, many times the level of effort that goes into our other courses.

To get a full explanation of what the OCW Scholar program is about, please see this article, but in the mean time I have to take my hat off to Dan, Elizabeth, Curt, Janet, Kate, Joe and the rest of the crew.  I don’t know ultimately what the impact of these courses will be, but I do know that all of you have done your very best to create a remarkable new kind of open educational resource.   Congrats on bringing this one across the finish line.  It may escape notice outside our office how hard you worked for these, but know that those of us on the inside are amazed.

Turkish OCW launches

(Obviously catching up on my OCW news today! More to come…)

The Turkish OCW site sponsored by the Turkish Academy of Sciences has launched, containing MIT OpenCourseWare translations and materials from other universities.  My congratulations to the entire team there!  A wonderful contribution to the body of global OpenCourseWare materials!

Washington open text effort

The Chronicle is carrying an article on the open text effort in the state of Washington.  It highlights some of the difficulties in adoption and adaptation of open resources, but I think the end note is more or less right: they are going to get there.

Many course designers thought they would find everything they needed in the open content offered by universities like Carnegie Mellon. Those treasure-troves, developed with grants from several foundations, offer free courses in addition to lecture notes, virtual laboratories, and online “cognitive tutors” that guide students through complex problem-solving exercises. One company, Flat World Knowledge, offers free online textbooks that professors can customize for their own classes. (Flat World makes its money by selling ancillary study guides.)

But instructors in this group were annoyed with the assumption that it’s just a matter of plucking ripe fruit off the Internet tree. They said they had been surprised to discover how few open-source sites cater to students who struggle with basic math, which describes many at the community-college level.

One of the reasons so few resource are available for remedial math is that the schools teaching remedial math have so few resources and thus can’t launch OER efforts, so they are stuck using overpriced textbooks.  It’s a bit of a vicious circle, but it will be broken at some point, especially with help from groups like the Gates Foundation.

OCW and the inverted classroom

I recently wrote a case study of Robert Talbert’s use of OCW in his “inverted classroom” approach to teaching programming skills.

Professor Talbert’s class was not a direct equivalent of courses offered at MIT — his was MATLAB-based — but OCW was nonetheless the perfect resource for designing and supporting the course. Talbert planned to teach using an “inverted classroom” approach, in which students acquire the bulk of the course information outside of class, through print and media resources, do preparatory homework assignments, and then put their basic knowledge to work through in-class lab activities.

Robert has a great post on the advantages and challenges of this approach over on his site:

Students do tend to resist the inverted classroom at first. Some forms of resistance are more benign than others. On the benign end of the spectrum there are students with little experience with the course material or its prerequisites who get bogged down on the basic podcast viewing (which takes the place of in-class lectures in this model) or the accompanying guided practice, and instead of actively seeking a resolution to their question will wait for the instructor to clear it up — in class. On the other end is the student who simply doesn’t believe I’m serious when I say there won’t be any lecturing, who then doesn’t do the work, assuming I’ll bail him out somehow — in class. But in the inverted model, students are held responsible for acquiring basic competencies before class so that the hard stuff — what we refer to as assimilation — is the primary focus of the class time.

It’s interesting to see how open educational resources generate new educational opportunities, but also demand new skills of both educators and students.

A long time coming: More OCW benefits

I alluded to this case study a while back, but like everything else, it’s taken more time than anticipated to get it out the door.  In a prior post, I mentioned that I had a case study illustrating how educator reuse of OCW materials is not simply plug-and-play adoption.  I finally have that case study out as part of our “Decade of OCW Benefits” series.

I think it’s worth taking a look at the different ways the OCW resource helped out Professor Talbert.

  • To update his skills: “The OCW course was actually my re-training course in programming in general, and then I adapted what I was learning generally about programming to the particulars of my course.”
  • As inspiration for course design:”OCW was an inspiration to me to put a fair amount of programming in the class at all — the course proved to me that you can teach elementary programming concepts in a clear, comprehensible way that is accessible to freshmen.”
  • An inspiration for assignment design: “I certainly made this homework problem up intending to replicate what Professor Guttag was doing.”
  • Resources for his students: Talbert planned to teach using an “inverted classroom” approach, in which students acquire the bulk of the course information outside of class, through print and media resources, do preparatory homework assignments, and then put their basic knowledge to work through in-class lab activities.

Not a lot of this falls under the kinds of direct adoption/cost savings issues discussed in the previous post.  Did all of this save any money?  Probably not.  Did it improve the quality of his course.  He believes so.

My thanks to Robert Talbert for sharing his OCW experiences.

100 Million Served

As we swing into MIT OpenCourseWare’s 10th anniversary year, I’ve been taking a look at the data from the past decade.  Really, this is the data from October 1, 2003 to present, as the program was announced April 4, 2001, and it took 2 1/2 years to get to the official launch.  Looking at the numbers, there is a good case to be made that OCW has reached as many as 100 million people in our first decade.  Here’s how:

  • Direct use: We’ve welcomed 50 million unique individuals directly to the site since 2003.  Web metrics always come with caveats, and I could interpret the stats 10% higher or 10% lower, but this is a good round number.
  • Translation site visits: Our translation affiliates maintain their own sites, and some are better than others about reporting traffic, but we’ve had 32 million visits reported from them.  Divide this by the 1.8 visits per visitor historic ratio we have and you get just under 18 million visits.  This doesn’t reflect significant numbers of unreported visits, so let’s round up to 20 million.
  • Redistribution sites and programs: Since we began redistributing our content through iTunes U and YouTube, we’ve received reporting indicating 17 million downloads from iTunes U and 15 million YouTube views.  The ratio of views/downloads per visitor is going to be higher than the visits/visitor above (plus there is overlap with some folks watching embedded YouTube videos on our site) so let’s say 2.5 views/downloads per visitor.  This would mean roughly 13 million more.  We are redistributed by a number of other sites (AcademicEarth, and we have sent mirror sites to 250 universities in bandwidth-constrained regions, so lets add another 2 million for this.  This brings our running total to 85 million.
  • Secondary uses: OCW materials are licensed for reuse, and we actively encourage visitors, especially educators, to download and reuse the materials.  We know that many educators do, and are thus bringing OCW materials to large numbers of students who never visit our site.  It’s a bit of a finger in the wind to figure out how many people this might represent, but let’s take a stab.  Educators are 10% of our visitors historically, so 5 million educators.  Forty-six percent of faculty responding to surveys indicate they have reused OCW materials.  This is almost certainly an overcount, as the survey respondents are self selected, but how many would have to have reused OCW content to have shared it with 15 million students? Assuming each teacher might share the materials with 50 students (a conservative number I hope), that would mean that 300,000 educators would have had to reuse OCW materials in the past ten years.  That’s 6% of the educators that our metrics indicate have been to the site.   This seems reasonable, if not conservative.

Fifty million direct, 20 million to translations, 15 million to redistribution sites, and 15 million through secondary use = 100 million.   All of these numbers are squishy and there’s some overlap between them. Maybe it’s in the 80 million range; maybe it’s higher than 100 million.   Even in rough numbers, it’s truly humbling to roll it all up this way, and a testament to the generosity and vision of the MIT faculty.

Year-end numbers for MIT OpenCourseWare

Posted in Evaluation, MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare, web metrics by scarsonmsm on January 3, 2011

Some high-level numbers from 2010:

  • 17.5 M visits
  • 9.6 M visitors
  • 1.82 visits per visitor
  • 98.3 M page views (actually a little lower than last year, but our site redesign is helping folks to find content faster)
  • 5.63 page views per visit
  • 1.9 M zip files downloaded
  • 11.8 M files downloaded from iTunes U
  • 7.3 M videos viewed on YouTube
  • 275 K visits from the MIT community (from GA, not WebTrends; WT is not reading this one right)
  • 446 K visits referred by StumbleUpon; 172 K by Reddit; 112 K by Wikipedia; 95 K by YouTube; 78 K by Facebook
  • 38% of visits used Firefox; 33% used IE; 15% used Chrome; 10% used Safari

Goodness all around.