OpenFiction [Blog]

Excerpt from my review of Unlocking the Gates

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, MOOC, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on August 27, 2012

Here’s a paragraph from my review of Taylor Walsh’s book Unlocking the Gates.  The review was published in the Continuing Higher Education Review, Vol. 76, 2012.  Walsh’s book reviews a number of the early online courseware efforts, including, MIT OpenCourseWare, Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative and India’s National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL).

What is consistent for me between these projects and the subsequent MOOCs at Stanford and MIT is that they are all in one way or another institutional answers to the question MIT president Charles Vest posed in 2000 to the committee that ultimately recommended MIT OpenCourseWare: How will the Internet change education, and what should our university do about it? That charge has echoed throughout the open-education community in the last decade as schools continue to grapple with these fundamental issues, and with the emergence of the newest generation of open online offerings, MOOCs, these questions take on increasing urgency.

You ask, the Mechanical MOOC answers

Posted in MOOC, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on August 24, 2012

FAQs for the Mechanical MOOC

What is a “MOOC”?

A massive open online course. They’re the latest rage in online learning. OK, they’ve actually been around a while in a variety of different forms, the first of which was a free-for-all approach with little central control where learners co-create a learning experience (“cMOOCs”), and the more recent variety, which are much more like traditional online classes (“xMOOCs”). You can read more about them at

In both cases, lots and lots of people get together to learn online. These courses are scalable because of peer learning environments that allow the learners to support each other, and because of assessment engines that automate feedback. Typically, participants number on the thousands, though some recent examples have included more than 100,000 initial participants.

OK, what is a “mechanical” MOOC?

Well, with previous MOOCs, there’s still been a professor who offers the course. Our course has no instructor. Our theory is that online learning tools have become robust enough with a light amount of coordination, learners can move through them together and support each other’s learning without a central authority

We are establishing a mailing list that will coordinate learner activities across a selection of online tools, letting you know when class activities are taking place and where to go to participate.

Why would you create a Mechanical MOOC?

We have a theory about MOOCs as they exist today. The first version of MOOCs–the cMOOCs–we think, are a little too unstructured for many learners, casting them into an unbounded environment of blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and other web technologies that are more than many learners can or want to manage.

On the other hand, the new strain of MOOCs–the xMOOCs–offered out of major universities and their spinoffs seem to be all competing to create the killer platform, and we have doubts that this can—or should–be done successfully. Usually, when sites try to do it all, they end up doing not much of it very well.

The lesson of open education in the past 10 years seems to be that the components of education—content, community and assessment—can be unbundled, and that sites can focus on providing one aspect of education very well. So we are combining three “best-of-breed” sites to create an offering that we think is as good or better than other approaches.

Is this course competing with the Stanford’s and MIT’s of the world?

No, this is an experiment to test our theory about the current MOOCs. Whatever comes out of it will be a very different learning experience than either the cMOOCs or xMOOCs. It will hopefully be more structured that the former and less structured than the latter.

It will certainly not be a neat and polished environment where all the pieces are custom-created to fit together neatly. But on the other hand, we hope to bring together the best of what’s already out there without having to build anything from scratch–a significant cost advantage, and a model that will empower many more open education projects to experiment with MOOC-like offerings.

What course are you offering?

The first course will be called “A gentle introduction to Python” and will be, well, a gentle introduction to Python programming.

Who is offering the class?

A group of leading open education sites are involved, including Peer 2 Peer University, OpenStudy, Codecademy, and MIT OpenCourseWare. Peer 2 Peer University is managing the mailing list.

MIT is participating. Is this an MITx offering? A competing program?

Neither. MIT OpenCourseWare supports all experiments involving their content that are consistent with the mission and spirit of the program, and this is one of them. We all have a lot to learn about how open learning takes place, and the more data points the better. This MOOC will not offer an MITx certificate.

How big will this Mechanical MOOC be?

We don’t know, but we’re confident it can be very big. These sites already serve thousands and in some cases millions of users, so we can handle whatever may come. But we’re ok if it’s small also. Our concern is less about getting huge numbers in the front end, and more about delivering a good learning experience for everyone who participates.

How can I get to know others who are studying?

OpenStudy will provide a forum where all learners can interact in one big study group, so that’s a great place to start. We’re also offering the opportunity for learners to be assigned to groups of ten, so that you can work more closely with a more limited cohort.

Where do I sign up?

Sign up for the mailing list at You’ll also have to register eventually for the OpenStudy site and Codecademy, but this can be done as the course progresses, so no worries.

Do I get a certificate?

Nope, but both Codecademy offers badges and OpenStudy has SmartScore, so you’ll get recognition of your work there. One of our long-term goals for Mechanical MOOC is to figure out how recognition works in this approach. NOTE: This MOOC will not offer an MITx certificate.

What good are the badges?

They are a shorthand for sharing your informal educational achievements on the Web, and a lot of smart people, including the good folks at Mozilla, are working hard to figure out how to make them more meaningful.

Can I use other sites and services with this course?

Absolutely. We encourage participants to bring in other tools, self-organize, and share what they are doing with the rest of the community. We’re tyring to learn here as well.

Leading open learning projects create a massive online course that combines best-of-breed open offerings

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on August 20, 2012

MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy, Codecademy, and Peer 2 Peer University join to offer “mechanical” MOOC

CAMBRIDGE, MA, August 21, 2012 — In the past year, schools including Stanford, MIT and Harvard–and spinoffs including Coursera and Udacity–have begun offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) where students numbering in the hundreds of thousands are taught by one or two instructors and a few TAs. Now a group of leading open education projects is announcing the launch of a new MOOC offering in October 2012 with no instructor involved–and in fact no one institution or organization in charge. This so-called “mechanical” MOOC will combine the offerings of three leading open education projects–MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy and Codecademy–loosely linked together by an e-mail list managed by Peer 2 Peer University to create a free and open course on introductory Python Programming.

“The MOOCs that have come out in the last six months are really incredible and have truly moved the needle for online learning,” said P2PU co-founder and Executive Director Philipp Schmidt, “but they are based on very sophisticated central platforms and require significant resources to develop. The mechanical MOOC is an attempt to leverage the power of the open web–by loosely joining together a set of independent building blocks. Rather than developing a new platform that does everything–deliver content, support community, provide feedback–we are simply connecting some of the most interesting applications out there, and letting each take care of a particular aspect of the overall learning experience. ”

The course will combine content from MIT OpenCourseWare’s 6.189 A Gentle Introduction to Python class, with a study group supported through OpenStudy and instant feedback and practice projects from Codecademy. Learners will earn badges demonstrating mastery through Codecademy and will earn recognition of collaborative skills through OpenStudy’s SmartScore.

Participants will register for a mailing list that will coordinate their progress through the content and assessments and signal when discussions on particular topics will occur. The sequencing e-mails will run in multiple rounds, allowing learners who are struggling to fall back into the next round and repeat units and still have a cohort of learners, rather than being left completely behind.

“We want to do more than sign-up tens of thousands of students and have only a fraction succeed,“ commented OpenStudy co-founder Preetha Ram. “Our goal is to have everyone who participates succeed. We want to help learners remain engaged throughout the course and be supported by a community.”

Already, these sites individually draw huge audiences: MIT OpenCourseWare attracts more than 1 million visitors a month, OpenStudy sees 250,000 students coming for help each month, including 16,000 in an introductory programming group, and Codecademy has seen several million users since August 2011. Each program has demonstrated the ability to deliver its particular service at scale, and this offering will seek to build on those successes by building synergies between the offerings.

The course, called “A Gentle Introduction to Python,” is slated to start mid-October, 2012, with initial enrollment available starting August 21 at

About P2PU

The Peer 2 Peer University ( is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU – learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

About OpenStudy

OpenStudy ( is a social study network where students can ask questions, give help, collaborate and meet others. Founded by professors and students from Georgia Tech and Emory University, and funded by the National Science Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, OpenStudy believes that students can teach other students through collaborative learning. OpenStudy believes in making the world one large study group where students can work together in a single place regardless of their school, country or background.

About Codecademy

Codecademy ( is the easiest way to learn to code. Since its launch in August of 2011, Codecademy has been used by millions of users in more than 100 countries. Users learn to build websites, create web applications, and to understand the fundamentals of computer science through an innovative, interactive interface. Codecademy is funded by top tier investors like Union Square Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.

About MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare ( makes the materials used in the teaching of substantially all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses—more than 2,100 in all—available on the Web, free of charge, to any user in the world. OCW receives an average of 1.75 million web site visits per month from more than 215 countries and territories worldwide. To date, more than 125 million individuals have accessed OCW materials.

Philipp Schmidt
Executive Director
Peer 2 Peer University

ChemLab Boot Camp: MIT OpenCourseWare launches reality series

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare, Video by scarsonmsm on August 14, 2012

A new series of videos to be published this fall follows 14 MIT freshmen through their introduction to hands-on science.

5.301 ChemLab Boot CampCAMBRIDGE, MA, August 14, 2012 — Each year, groups of MIT freshmen are introduced to MIT’s laboratory environment through a four-week January course called 5.301 Introductory Lab Techniques. In January 2012, a film crew followed 14 students as they struggled to complete experiments required in the class. The stakes are high—students who pass the class are guaranteed a job in an MIT research lab.

This fall, MIT OpenCourseWare will share videos that follow these students as they face the challenges of learning chemistry the MIT way through a unique series called ChemLab Boot Camp. The episodes will be released each week starting in September, and announced on the ChemLab Boot Camp e-mail list.

Watch the ChemLab Boot Camp trailer.

The 2-5 minute episodes, shot in a style that mixes the geek fun of open educational resources with the immediacy of reality TV, brings viewers closer to the experience of being an MIT student than ever before. The videos follow the students as they struggle to master lab techniques such as growing crystals and synthesizing antibiotics. The videos are part of a broader effort at MIT funded by The Dow Chemical Company to foster interest in science and engineering careers.

“Despite the critical need for more and more people trained in chemistry and chemical engineering, the fields have not been as attractive as they should be,” said MIT chemistry Professor John Essigmann in commenting on the idea behind the series. “Dow and MIT have mobilized our collective resources to try to show high school and college students what it is like to be a chemist. We hope to show the human side of our field and to inspire young people to want to become the next generation of chemists.”

The MIT-Dow Outreach Fund is designed to develop and support the science and engineering careers of underrepresented minorities and women. A five-year, $2 million commitment from Dow, the Outreach Fund is intended to support science education at all levels. The establishment of this Outreach Program comes as MIT celebrates its 150th anniversary.

About Dow

Dow (NYSE: DOW) combines the power of science and technology to advance what is essential to human progress. The Company connects chemistry and innovation with the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems, such as the need for clean water, the generation and conservation of renewable energy, and the improvement of agricultural productivity. Dow’s diversified portfolio of specialty businesses in chemistry, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics delivers a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers around the world. In 2011, Dow had annual sales of $60 billion and employed approximately 52,000 people worldwide. The Company’s more than 5,000 products are manufactured at 197 sites in 36 countries across the globe. References to “Dow” or the “Company” mean The Dow Chemical Company and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise expressly noted. More information about Dow can be found at (

About Highlights for High School

Highlights for High School organizes more than 70 introductory level courses from the OCW site, and indexes over 2,700 individual resources to the AP curricula for calculus, chemistry, physics and biology, helping American students and educators find resources quickly. The Highlights site also includes dozens of demonstrations, competitions and other activities from MIT classes that show how fun and challenging science and technology subjects can be, inspiring the next generation of US engineers and scientists.

About MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare makes the materials used in the teaching of substantially all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses—more than 2,100 in all—available on the Web, free of charge, to any user in the world. OCW receives an average of 1.75 million web site visits per month from more than 215 countries and territories worldwide. To date, more than 100 million individuals have accessed OCW materials.


Christine Welch
Echo Media
(714) 573-0899 ext. 225