OpenFiction [Blog]

A professional transition

With profound gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given at MIT, I want to share that I have accepted a new position as Operations Director for the OPENPediatrics program at Boston Children’s Hospital.  My last day at MIT will be March 31st.

I’ve always felt that my work at OCW might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of people worldwide, and I am humbled to have found another opportunity to have such an impact.  Every year, more than 10 million children die of preventable causes, and OPENPediatrics ( seeks to address this challenge using the principles of open sharing and scalable education that animate OCW and MITx to improve the care of critically ill children on a global scale.

While I am excited by this new opportunity, I am sad to part ways with the many friends and colleagues who mean so much to me.  I will spend much of the next few years wondering (and maybe occasionally even asking) how the ODL and OCWC teams would have handled situations I will face.

I’m also sad to be unable to join my MIT colleagues in the engaging work that awaits ODL in the next few years.  Amid the uncertainty of the shifting higher education landscape and the organizational changes at MIT, I have total confidence in the amazing people brought together under the ODL banner.  I have no doubt that they will all do as they have always done–transform the way we think about the intersection of education and digital technologies, and how it can be used to make ours a better world.

I’m optimistic my new position will allow me to remain engaged in the open education community, and will regardless keep in touch with my friends at MIT and the OCWC.  Thank you again to the friends and colleagues who have made my work at OCW, the OCW Consortium, and the Office of Digital Learning such a wonderful experience.

New free course by human genome pioneer Dr. Eric Lander announced

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, mitx by scarsonmsm on January 30, 2013

Massive open online course to share how genetics is transforming our understanding of human biology and disease.

CAMBRIDGE, MA, January 30, 2013 — In the 1990’s and early ’00s, Dr. Eric Lander led the Human Genome Project’s efforts to sequence the entire human genome; now he brings that wealth of experience to a unique new free course that will share how human genetics is answering some of the most difficult questions about human life at its most fundamental level. In the coming decades, scientists will be able to understand how cells are “wired” and how that wiring is disrupted in human diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer to schizophrenia.

The course, 7.00x Introductory Biology: “The Secret of Life”, is slated to start March 5th, and registration is now open. In addition revealing the cutting edge of human genetics, the course also promises to be an innovative educational experience. Developed out of Professor Lander’s 20 years of experience teaching MIT undergraduates, the course has been completely rethought and retooled, incorporating cutting-edge online interactive tools as well as community-building contests and milestone-based prizes.

“Introducing the freshman class of MIT to the basics of biology is exhilarating,” said Lander. “Now, with this edX course, I look forward to teaching people around the world. There are no prerequisites for this course – other than curiosity and an interest in understanding some of the greatest scientific challenges of our time.”

Lander’s materials were also used in the creation of MIT OpenCourseWare’s 7.01SC Fundamentals of Biology, one of our unique OCW Scholar courses. OCW Scholar courses provide MIT course materials in a self-guided format that can be accessed at any time, but do not include instructor support or recognition for completion.

In addition to Professor Lander’s class, MIT has announced two additional new courses to be offered through edX, Electricity and Magnetism by Walter Lewin and The Challenges of Global Poverty from Esther Duflo. Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, Circuits and Electronics and Introduction to Solid State Chemistry, offered in 2012, are again available in 2013.

About Professor Lander

Dr. Eric Lander is President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, a new kind of collaborative biomedical research institution focused on genomic medicine. Dr. Lander is also Professor of Biology at MIT and Professor of Systems Biology at the Harvard Medical School. In addition, Dr. Lander serves as Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which advises the White House on science and technology. A geneticist, molecular biologist and mathematician, Dr. Lander has played a pioneering role in all aspects of the reading, understanding and medical application of the human genome. He was a principal leader of the international Human Genome Project (HGP) from 1990-2003, with his group being the largest contributor to the mapping and sequencing of the human genetic blueprint. Dr. Lander was an early pioneer in the free availability of genomic tools and information. Finally, he has mentored an extraordinary cadre of young scientists who have become the next generation of leaders in medical genomics. The recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, Dr. Lander was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1997 and of the U.S. Institute of Medicine in 1999.

About edX

EdX is a not-for-profit enterprise of its founding partners Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology focused on transforming online and on-campus learning through groundbreaking methodologies, game-like experiences and cutting-edge research. EdX provides inspirational and transformative knowledge to students of all ages, social status, and income who form worldwide communities of learners. EdX uses its open source technology to transcend physical and social borders. We’re focused on people, not profit. EdX is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the USA.

About MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare makes the materials used in the teaching of substantially all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses—more than 2,150 in all—available on the Web, free of charge, to any user in the world. OCW receives an average of 2 million website visits per month from more than 215 countries and territories worldwide. To date, more than 150 million individuals have accessed OCW materials.


Stephen Carson
External Relations Director
MIT OpenCourseWare

What we talk about when we talk about automated assessment

Posted in mitx, MOOC, Open Educational Resources by scarsonmsm on July 23, 2012

If there is one single innovation driving the xMOOC* phenomenon, it’s the emergence of scalable automated assessments. The ability to provide feedback to thousands of students at once is a big part of what makes these courses scalable. A robust peer learning community is another aspect of this, but one for a later discussion. Anyway, to my non-technical self, there are three predominant flavors of these automated assessment:

• “Check yourself” kinds of quiz questions, often randomized in some way to try to control for cheating. These seem so far to be the assessments in the Udacity course I am taking.

• Simulations such as the circuitry sandbox used for 6.002x, which allow for open ended manipulation of variables. While these kinds of assessments are more sophisticated, the underlying technologies seem to be more one-off and to require more development effort than the “check yourself” tools.

• True adaptive learning environments along the lines of those used by Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative. I know OLI is not usually discussed in the xMOOC conversation, but everything I understand about the program indicates they should be. These seem to be a whole nother level of complicated above simulations.

That’s my assessment of the assessments. Would love to hear others’ takes.

• So I am adopting Stephen Downes’ conventions, xMOOC for the Coursera/Udacity/MITx varient, and cMOOC for the original connectivist model.

Tightly coupled or loosely joined

One of the issues I’ve been thinking about as I watch the development of massively scalable courses (I continue to resist calling them MOOCs) is whether or not we are repeating the problems of learning management systems in the new course platforms.

My experience with learning management systems is that because they are tasked with doing so many different things, they don’t do any one thing particularly well. In part this is an issue of development burden–even a big, well-resourced team is hard pressed to keep up on the development of the full suite of tools that educators want to use. The second issue is one of nimbleness. It’s much harder in a big system like an LMS to throw out code and start from scratch on a particular piece of functionality–there’s just too much legacy commitment.

I’m not primarily (or maybe even secondarily) a technical guy, so there may be new approaches to putting platforms together that will mitigate the second issue, but as far as I can see, the first issue only gets worse when it comes to massively scalable courses. Why? The key development that is allowing courses to scale in any meaningful way right now is the new generation of automated assessments such as the circuitry sandbox used for 6.002x.

That tool, as reported in the Globe yesterday, has been under development for many years. The problem is, creating an automated assessment tool of similar complexity in a different field is likely to be a similarly complex undertaking. To create a program that spans a wide range of subjects in a meaningfully scalable way means a similar investment in each field.

I understand the instinct to create these integrated platforms–a more coherent user experience and probably most importantly unified data collection from people on the system, but I wonder if those advantages are going to be compelling enough to actually create a sustainable model, especially if the assessments available are less effective than those offered at boutique learning sites like Codecademy. After all, as a learner, I don’t want to learn two dozen different subjects, I want to learn one, so I don’t care if the site I go to has good medical automated assessments if what I want is to learn javascript.

In addition to the burden of creating assessments across a range of fields, the massively scalable course platforms are also going to have to create content and learning communities as well, adding to the development burden. An alternative to this that I see is for learners to build experiences by pulling together complementary individual projects. We collaborate, for instance, with OpenStudy to add interactive opportunities to MIT OpenCourseWare content. There’s no reason learners couldn’t choose to use Peer 2 Peer University for the same purpose. And increasingly, there are automated feedback tools such as those at Codecademy emerging that can provide a robust experience.

The most compelling part of the massively scalable course value proposition right now–beyond the learning opportunity itself–is the possibility of credentialling, but it’s not clear right now what the market value of that will be, or how much reputational capital participating universities are willing to burn in these efforts, or how efforts like the Mozilla Open Badges Infrastructure will impact credentialling.

MOOCs and the liberal arts

Posted in mitx, MOOC, Open Educational Resources by scarsonmsm on May 14, 2012

Great article in Forbes about an 11 year-old’s experience with one of Stanford’s MOOCs. Well worth the read for all kinds of reasons if you are interested in these courses, but illustrates a concern I’ve had for a while now. The child is learning Game Theory, a largely quantitative course (at least in the way this one is presented), as are most of these MOOCs (at least of the Stanford & MITx ilk–the Siemens-Downes-Wiley variety are much less so). As Stephen points out in his OLDaily on the article, the kid uses his newly developed quantitative skills in an ethically questionable manner. From the article:

But he took his lessons to more unexpected, and depending upon how you look at it, somewhat disturbing places. At school, students were asked to form teams and go out onto the streets and raise money for kids with cancer. His team had to choose a location and that is where he informed me that he used his game theory. On their street they saw a homeless man (a comparative rarity in Toronto). He realised that the homeless man had already worked out what the best location for charitable contributions was. In this case, it was at a point next to a subway entrance and a Starbucks. He convinced his team that they could set up their own stand right there. Two things could happen, he explained to me. One is that the homeless man, moved away to come back another day. The other was that the homeless man stayed in which case he believed that his team would have edge in their claim as their cause was for other people and his was just for himself. In the end, the homeless man abandoned the post.

These MITx-ish MOOCs, and other scalable assessments online such as Khan Academy, are good at teaching skills to vast numbers of people where the outcomes are computable, but not so good at teaching when it might or might not be appropriate to employ those skills. There is, I think, a great dystopian sci fi novel to be written around millions of people trained to develop AI that have no ethical understanding of the impact of the technologies they develop. There is a real danger of our STEM education outrunning our liberal arts education in ways that might have significant consequences. You don’t have to point any further than the roots of the ’08 financial crisis to see quantitative cleverness unhinged from ethical control nearly taking down the global economy. The risk is real.

On the other hand, the Siemens-Downes-Wiley MOOCs* do have the capacity to address the qualitative. They are not as scalable and accessible to your average learner (in my opinion) and generally lack quantifiable measures of learning that I’ve seen. But at least they lend themselves to teaching humanities subjects. I’m really interested in how well the MITx-Stanford MOOCs will handle the humanities and what the limits of automated essay grading will be. Stay tuned and keep the doomsday bunker stocked.


* Do we need names for these two varieties or what? I really think it’s unfortunate that the term MOOCs got adopted to cover courses like Stanford’s and MITx’s, as they aren’t open in the way that Siemens-Downes-Wiley courses have been. Brandon suggested the other day calling the MITx-Stanford variety MOCs (Massive Online Courses) for that reason, and I second the motion.

Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science now available in MIT OpenCourseWare’s innovative OCW Scholar format

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, mitx, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on February 24, 2012

6.01SC is the fourth of seven courses OCW will publish this spring specifically to meet the needs of independent learners.

CAMBRIDGE, MA, February 25, 2012 — MIT OpenCourseWare has released a new version of Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I in the innovative OCW Scholar format designed for independent learners. Coordinated by Professor Dennis Freeman, 6.01SC includes contributions from a half dozen MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) faculty members, and features lecture and recitation videos.

6.01 is one of two introductory courses required of all MIT EECS majors. It was developed as part of a new EECS curriculum introduced in 2005, and is designed to introduce students to electrical engineering and computer science through both theory and practice. 6.01 also provides prerequisite information supporting study in the new 6.002x course being offered this spring through MITx, the online learning initiative MIT announced in December 2011.

OCW Scholar courses represent a new approach to OCW publication. MIT faculty, staff and students work closely with the OCW team to structure the course materials for independent learners. These courses offer more materials than typical OCW courses and include new custom-created content. 6.01SC provides a complete learning experience for independent learners, including lecture videos, recitation videos, course notes, software and design labs, homework assignments and additional exercises, and quizzes and exams.

The first five of a planned 20 OCW Scholar courses were launched by MIT OpenCourseWare in January 2011, and have collectively received more than 800,000 visits in less than a year. The initial OCW Scholar courses included Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Solid State Chemistry, Single Variable Calculus, and Multivariable Calculus.

Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, and Principles of Microeconomics were published earlier this year, and Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is the fourth of seven OCW Scholar courses that will be published in 2012. Upcoming OCW Scholar courses are Introduction to Psychology, Fundamentals of Biology and Introduction to Computer Science and Programming. OCW Scholar courses are published on the OCW site with the support of the Stanton Foundation.

About MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare makes the materials used in teaching most 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. MIT OpenCourseWare is supported by donations from site visitors, grants and corporate sponsorship, including underwriting from our Next Decade Alliance sponsors Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin and MathWorks.

About the Instructors

Leslie Kaelbling is Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Research Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT. She has previously held positions at Brown University, the Artificial Intelligence Center of SRI International, and at Teleos Research. She received an A. B. in Philosophy in 1983 and a Ph. D. in Computer Science in 1990, both from Stanford University.

Jacob White is an Associate Director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at MIT. Professor White is a pioneer in numerical methods, particularly in computational prototyping tools and techniques for integrated circuit interconnect, circuit packaging, and micromachined devices.

Harold (Hal) Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a Fellow of the IEEE. He holds an A.B. degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from MIT. In 1992, Abelson was designated as one of MIT’s six inaugural MacVicar Faculty Fellows, in recognition of his significant and sustained contributions to teaching and undergraduate education.

Dennis M. Freeman is a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at MIT. He received his B.S. from the Pennsylvania State University in 1973, and his S.M. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT in 1976 and 1986 respectively.

Tomas Lozano-Perez is the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Excellence at MIT, where he is a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Professor Lozano-Perez has all his degrees (SB ’73, SM ’76, PhD ’80) from MIT in Computer Science. He has been Associate Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Associate Head for Computer Science of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Isaac Chuang came to MIT in 2000 from IBM, where he was a research staff member. He received his doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, where he was a Hertz Foundation Fellow. Prof. Chuang also holds two bachelors and one masters degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering from MIT, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley.

About the Stanton Foundation

The Stanton Foundation was created by Frank Stanton, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest executives in the history of electronic communications. During his 25 years as president of CBS, he turned a lesser-known radio network into a broadcasting powerhouse. Stanton made many historic contributions to the industry and to the society it served. In 1960, he initiated the first televised presidential debates—the famous Nixon-Kennedy “Great Debates”—which required a special Act of Congress before they could proceed. He also spearheaded the creation of the first coast-to-coast broadcasting system, allowing CBS to become the first network to present a news event live across the continental United States, 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.


Stephen Carson
External Relations Director
MIT OpenCourseWare

Why MITx and OCW are a powerful pairing

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, mitx, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on February 13, 2012

Audrey Watters is covering this morning’s announcement that MITx has opened enrollment for its first course, 6.002x Circuits and Electronics.  She makes a wonderful observation about why MITx and OCW are great combination:

…the connection to MIT OCW is important here, and it’s something that makes MITx quite distinct from some of its online learning competitors. As MITx is situated as part of the university’s broader mission, MIT isn’t just offering isolated courses or content here, disaggregated from other related materials and/or catering to people who already have a fair amount of expertise in a field. Rather the MITx classes will be situated as part of the larger university curriculum and tied into its other online learning initiatives. There will be a list of all the related curriculum and courses on the MIT OCW website, for example, with the pre-requitsites available (and/or coming soon) as MIT OCW Scholar classes.

MITx goes live

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, mitx, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on February 13, 2012

If you haven’t seen this already, enrollment is open for the first MITx course, 6.002x Circuits and Electronics.

View related courseware on OCW.