OpenFiction [Blog]

Another (less profound) transition

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, open education, OpenCourseWare, OpenCourseWare Consortium by scarsonmsm on March 4, 2014

As I move to a new professional chapter in my life, I am also moving to a new blogging home, and retiring OpenFiction.  Please follow my (probably occasional) bloggings about my new professional efforts on my new 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.

NextGenU launch

Posted in open education, Open Educational Resources by scarsonmsm on April 8, 2013

One of the projects I have been advising, NextGenU, just launched globally.  My congratulations to the team!  Here is the press release:

World’s First Free, For Credit, University-Level Training Portal Launches launches globally for World Health Day (April 7) with three courses:
Emergency Medicine, Environmental Health, and Climate Change and Health

Vancouver, BC – Doctors, healthcare experts, students, and researchers around the globe will
celebrate World Health Day (April 7) early with today’s launch of, the world’s first
free online portal, where anyone, anywhere in the world can access university- and graduate-level
courses for interest or for credit through accredited institutions and organizations. NextGenU is
offering three medical/public health and environmental courses, and is poised to grow full schools of public health and medicine.

“We launched our Emergency Medicine course in March 2012. Our pilot testing shows identical exam
results to traditionally-trained U.S. medical students, with many students preferring our distributed teaching model,” says Erica Frank, MD, MPH, Founder, President, and Executive Director ofNextGenU. “We decided to launch globally around World Health Day, since our first three course
offerings address health, and we already have health sciences students enrolled from 54 countries.”
Dr. George Lundberg, former Editor of JAMA and of Medscape, says, “NextGenU’s model presents
the next great frontier for globally democratizing higher learning, a huge leap forward for education, equity, and health – this unique approach could save countless lives worldwide.”

The World Health Organization states that the world needs over 4 million additional healthcare
providers, particularly in developing countries. Serious global educational resource constraints and remarkable open courseware opportunities mean that heavy use of computer-assisted technology is
required to train these health providers. NextGenU brings top-notch training materials to the
computers of individuals, post-secondary institutions, and other organizations that may not otherwise have the resources to access or provide these trainings.

“With NextGenU, for the first time, healthcare professionals in every corner of the world will have
equal access to first-class learning resources, without economics or geography providing a barrier,” says Dr. Frank. “This truly democratizes advanced education by offering world-class resources to everyone, regardless of place or circumstance.”

NextGenU collaborates with leading accredited universities, professional societies, and government
co-sponsors, as well as funders, including Grand Challenges Canada, the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. All courses are competency-based, and
include knowledge transfer through online, expert-created, and expert-certified resources, along with guided opportunities to observe and practice skills with local mentors and a web-based global peer community of practice.

NextGenU opens a new era of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); while anyone anywhere can
audit classes offered by other MOOCs for interest’s sake, NextGenU is the first site committed to
providing university, graduate-, and professional-level courses for credit and for free. NextGenU’s
uniquely-accredited MOOC model builds on the common practice in medical and public health
schools of students receiving credit at their home institutions for courses and clinical clerkships taken elsewhere.

Lindsay Galway’s public health students are using NextGenU’s Environmental Health course this
semester for their learning platform at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. She reports that “with this type of expert-created, competency-based curriculum, we’re able to provide the world’s best resources to our students for their reading, listening, and viewing.”

Dr. Carolina Segura, MD, Course Creator and Principal Researcher for NextGenU’s Physical Activity
and Health course pilot in Colombia, says, “Our students think NextGenU’s method is genius. Many
can’t afford even the least expensive tuition, nor to leave their homes and jobs. NextGenU allows our scarce teachers and mentors to leave knowledge transfer to online learning, saving their time to provide the kind of skills training for the courses that can only happen in person.”

It should be noted that, in addition to being free of cost and other common barriers, like geography and time scheduling, NextGenU is advertisement-free and carbon-free, using wind-powered servers and carbon offsets purchased for other organizational greenhouse gas emissions.
NextGenU currently offers courses in Emergency Medicine, Environmental Health, and Climate
Change and Health, and most course materials and activities are available in 64 languages through
Google Translate’s integration into the Moodle platform. More than 130 additional courses, covering a broad range of topics, are currently in development, and NextGenU’s educational potential is infinite.

About NextGenU’s Founder

Dr. Erica Frank, Founder, President and Executive Director of, is a Professor and
Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public
Health, in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Frank received her post-graduate education at Stanford (3-year NIH/NHLBI Prevention Fellowship), Yale (Preventive Medicine Residency), and the Cleveland
Clinic (Internship). NextGenU’s global team began in 2001.

Media contacts:

• Erica Frank, MD, MPH, President,, 604 724-5175 (cell)
• Ann Hulton, Chief Technologist,
• Kate Tairyan, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health,
• Michelle Wruck, COO,

Maybe not the lead they wanted for the first Coursera Partners conference

Posted in MOOC, open education, sustainability by scarsonmsm on April 5, 2013

Coursera debates future of monetization – The Daily Pennsylvanian

Reports from the actual event indicate the discussion is really not centered on monetization, but the article sure is:

“I think the excitement surrounding this conference, and around Coursera in general, shows that the profits will come, even if they may not have come yet,” said Law School professor Edward Rock, who serves as Penn’s director of open course initiatives. “When you have a product like these courses that represents an increase in quality and a reduction in cost, it’s bound to make money.”


At Penn, Rock said, about 60 percent of revenue earned from individual courses goes directly to faculty members.

“If a course turns out to be a bestseller, there will be significant revenues that flow to faculty members,” he added. “It’s something that professors think about and care about, because they’re putting a huge amount of time into developing these courses.”


“If you look at similar ventures, the same questions came up there. How’s Google going to get money from searches, how’s Facebook going to get money from hitting a like button?” [Penn mathematics and engineering professor Robert Ghrist] said. “Once you have an interested customer base, then you have something to work with.”

Read the full article.

This I did not know: Udacity available under open license

Posted in intellectual property, MOOC, open education, Open Educational Resources by scarsonmsm on April 5, 2013

From the Udacity Legal page:

Udacity hereby grants you a license in and to the Educational Content under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License ( and successor locations for such license) (the “CC License”), provided that, in each case, the Educational Content is specifically marked as being subject to the CC License. As used herein, “Educational Content” means the educational materials made available to you through the Online Courses, including such on-line lectures, speeches, video lessons, quizzes, presentation materials, homework assignments, programming assignments, code samples, and other educational materials and tools, but, in any event, specifically excluding any Secure Testing Materials. Such Educational Content will be considered the “Work” under the terms of the CC License. “Secure Testing Materials” refers to any exams or other testing materials that are used for certification purposes.

Not sure how I missed that.  The ND is limiting and raises many questions, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction.

A hima for educational and cultural materials?

Posted in intellectual property, open access, open education, Open Educational Resources by scarsonmsm on March 28, 2013

I am always interested in ways that the concept of sharing common resources (like open educational resources) does (and does not) translate across cultures.  Especially with the recent work we’ve done in supporting the Open Book Project, I was intrigued to come across this piece on the tradition of a physical commons in Arabic cultures:

There was an ancient Middle Eastern tradition of setting aside certain lands, called hima (“protected place” in Arabic), for the enjoyment of local chieftains. Muhammad “transformed the hima from a private enclave into a public asset in which all community members had a share and a stake, in accordance with their duty as stewards (khalifa) of God’s natural world,” according to Tom Verde, a scholar of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations.

In the seventh century, Muhammad declared the region of Al-Madinah, now the holy city of Medina, “to be a sanctuary; its trees shall not be cut and its game shall not be hunted.” Many of the hima lasted well into the 20th century, when the tradition fell victim to modern beliefs about land ownership.

This echos for me the important role that Arabic cultures played in preserving knowledge throughout the dark ages.  I like the idea of a cultural and educational hima in which we all have “a share and a stake”—both access to and responsibility for a vibrant common resource that benefits all.

Why the “open” in MOOC matters

Posted in Evaluation, Mechanical MOOC, MIT OpenCourseWare, MOOC, open education by scarsonmsm on March 4, 2013

Jeff Young has a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today about what he calls the “bandwidth divide” and how most MOOCs require learners to have persistent high-speed internet access.  When we created the Mechanical MOOC course, we built it on existing open resources mostly because we though it was the most efficient and cost effective way to do it–by leveraging the investments already made in creating MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy and Codecademy.

We realized very quickly that a lot of additional flexibility came with leveraging these resources.  Because they were from mature projects focused on openly sharing their resources and functionality, they had developed alternate modes of delivery to address bandwidth issues:

  • the 6.189 course used an open textbook that was downloadable
  • the 6.189 course materials (assignments, notes) themselves could be downloaded in a single zip file
  • the 6.00SC videos used were downloadable from iTunes U and the Internet Archive
  • OpenStudy was launching a beta mobile interface just as the course kicked off

And our learners downloaded the materials is large numbers:

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 7.53.26 AM

Beyond that, we were able to also leverage the deep investments made in translating these open resources.  The text is available in a dozen languages, and the course materials have been translated into Chinese.  By building our course on open resources, we saved money and leveraged the work that these projects have already put into reaching audiences working without persistent internet or in other languages.  A win-win-win.

Saylor Foundation Executive Director

Posted in open education by scarsonmsm on February 12, 2013

I recently heard from Alana Harrington that she is leaving her post as Executive Director for the Saylor Foundation.  I’ll be sorry to see her take her leave, as she’s made tremendous contributions to the open education movement though her work there.  She’s heading up the search for her successor, so if anyone is interested, the position description is below.  Best of luck down the road, Alana!





The Saylor Foundation seeks an experienced, dynamic, self-motivated visionary leader to take on the position of EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of this Washington, DC 501(c)(3) organization.

About the Saylor Foundation
The Constitution Foundation (DBA The Saylor Foundation) was established in 1999 by Michael J. Saylor, the CEO of a leading business intelligence technology company, MicroStrategy. The Foundation is deeply involved as a leader and innovator in open education.  Its initiatives are at the forefront of developing  and structuring  online open educational resources, with the goal of increasing the accessibility of higher education and driving down the cost of higher education. The Foundation is committed to employing technology as a primary driver in spurring education advances. Read more about our organization and efforts in digital education in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in Forbes.

About the Free Education Initiative
Conceived as a way to organize web-based resources into a comprehensive, coherent, and useable body of courseware, now offers over 270 free online courses to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection.  The wealth of material available through, as extensive as that available from a college or university, is founded on a robust architecture and innovative method to build and disseminate free, high quality courses to those lacking access to traditional schooling.   Leveraging our resources through experimental approaches layered upon this proven methodology, we engage  dozens of experienced professors to build college-level, K-12, and professional development courses from high quality resources available on the Web. We readily partner with other institutions to expand the reach and distribution of our materials, participate as a launch partner of Google Course Builder and utilize I-Tunes University as one of many ways to reach our constituents.

Position Description

The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will operate under the guidance of and report directly to the Foundation Trustee, Michael J. Saylor, its General Counsel, and  Advisory Board .

The successful candidate is an individual who is comfortable with aggressive goals, as well as evolving products and action plans, and boasts excellent analytical skills, a strong attention to detail, and the ability to work well in a fast-paced team environment.  As an established leader in the field,  affords an exciting opportunity for candidates with an entrepreneurial spirit who like to create and innovate.  This person will be expected to think through and ultimately answer mission-critical questions for the organization. This role requires flexibility, as this individual will tackle a wide variety of projects with significant autonomy, and will build relationships internally across “departments” as well as externally.

The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will be responsible for a cutting-edge, open courseware program that has the potential to change the face of education. He or she will develop priorities for the organization based on the Trustee’s preferences, create and implement plans, and coordinate programmatic initiatives, technology, collaboration, and work efforts across the entire project. He or she will develop and maintain effective partnerships with external organizations to foster interoperability and cohesion within the open and digital education community. Directing a staff of 48 Full Time and Part Time Employees as well as over 400 independent contractors, the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will manage the fiscal and human resources of the Foundation.  The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will lead the team in identifying targets, articulating core value propositions, closing deals, and growing existing partnerships to improve our product and expand our reach.

This position requires extensive experience in leading and cultivating communities and organizations, evidenced by an impressive professional track record and strong academic background. This position requires excellent leadership and communication skills, understanding of the traditional and nontraditional education systems, knowledge of open education programs and practices, and demonstrated effectiveness in managing staff and resources.

The successful candidate is poised, gregarious, and a natural born leader.  He or she is an excellent and comfortable presenter and networker and thrives in the public eye.   The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will be expected to detect changes in the organization’s functioning, culture, and dynamics and make the appropriate changes to enhance productivity while also achieving organizational harmony and balance.

He or she will not only strive to advance the Saylor Foundation’s mission, but will also actively contribute to the vision and thought leadership of the field of digital education and publicly communicate this vision.

Responsibilities of the DIRECTOR will include, but will not be limited to:

1)     Oversee the day-to-day operations of the Foundation, lead the creation of a shared vision for staff, the Trustee, and pertinent external groups, and educate others on the future direction of the Foundation and inspire and motivate them to be supporters and advocates;

2)     Represent the Foundation and speak compellingly and effectively about the Saylor model, growth and strategic plans at industry events; increase the visibility of the organization and build and maintain long term relationships with key partners and potential donors and advocates;

3)     Set a collaborative leadership example for the team while effectively conveying and representing the Trustee’s vision and directives to staff;

4)     Advocate among influential constituencies as a driver in the open education movement and the rise of digital education;

5)     Work with the human resources and legal team to create awareness of ethical, behavioral, and procedural standards expected of all employees and encourage a transparent culture in which these policies are understood and lived out at all organizational levels; prevent and manage breaches as they arise.

6)     Make effective and law- and regulation- abiding decisions in hiring, firing, placement, promotion, termination and compensation in conjunction with the Foundation’s General Counsel and human resources department;

7)     Guide cross-team and cross-organizational collaboration while working as a team player and effectively relating to a diversity of individuals with varying strengths, experience, and interests;

8)     Establish sound financial systems of accountability,  to prepare and take responsibility for the annual budget; manage and oversee all outgoing expenditures and allocated resources to each program and department;

9)     Develop and revise a monthly reporting mechanism for programmatic activity in order to report on and keep  abreast of, developments and patterns of success/failure.

10)  Understand and evangelize the product while developing relationships with target content partners, corporate sponsors AND traditional press and media outlets in order to increase awareness of the Foundation’s mission and status.

11)  Travel as required.

The breadth and scope of the project almost defies description — the new EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR must embrace a fast-paced and demanding work environment with constant strategic challenges and moving targets.  The organization’s programs and priorities are constantly evolving as is the nature of the industry within which it resides; the successful candidate must be equally as adaptable and not only survive change but embrace it.


1)     Extensive executive leadership experience (8 or more years) in education and/or digital education. Academic experience highly desirable. B.A./B.S. required; advanced degree in Education highly preferred.

2)     Demonstrated ability to lead, plan, and support a functionally organized environment, with staff working on a wide variety of activities. Ability to forecast, develop and implement organizational initiatives.

3)     Ability to think strategically and programmatically as well as successfully manage operations. Ability to set priorities, allocate resources, provide follow-through, assure a well-organized workforce and to provide evaluation of projects and efforts.

4)     Superb management skills, and demonstrated ability to lead, motivate and direct both professional and technical staff. Demonstrated success in managing fiscal, technology and human resources.  Excellent project management skills, including demonstrated ability to deliver superior results on deadline.

5)       Competent understanding of and comfort with embracing technology as an innovative force as demonstrated through professional experience and interests.

Details & Compensation

This is a full-time position.  The successful candidate will work at the Foundation’s headquarters in Washington DC. with monthly meetings in Vienna, VA required.  Pay is commensurate with experience on a not-for-profit scale and in-line with senior government leadership positions.  Health care benefits included for hired individual.

The Saylor Foundation
1000 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 220
Washington DC   20007
p: (202) 333-4005

The most fun I’ve had in open ed in a long time

Posted in Mechanical MOOC, MOOC, open education by scarsonmsm on October 11, 2012

My first job out of grad school was as the coordinator of Emerson College’s adult degree program. Without a doubt, the highlight of the job was the daily contact with the amazingly motivated and persistent adult students who were overcoming tremendous challenges to complete their degrees. Their enthusiasm for learning and pride of accomplishment was absolutely infectious.

There are lots of great things about my current gig for sure, but close contact with motivated learners has not been one of them–until now. We are a few days away from the official start of our Mechanical MOOC Python course, and already I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to interact with the learners participating in the course.

The enthusiasm they show, the extent to which they are already working ahead through the material and helping each other, the Twitter stream and blog posts about the course all bring back that feeling of really helping people to do something they care about.

No doubt that OCW does this too, but my daily connection to it is abstract, often discussed in numbers. Nice to reconnect more firmly with the people.

MIT OpenCourseWare publishes unique introductory Python programming independent study course

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, open education, Open Educational Resources, OpenCourseWare by scarsonmsm on March 6, 2012

6.00SC Introduction to Computer Science and Programming provides a comprehensive introduction to the basics of programming.

CAMBRIDGE, MA, March 6, 2012 – Python programming has fast become the introductory programming language of choice, and now MIT OpenCourseWare has unveiled a new Python programming resource designed specifically for independent learners. Developed by Professor John Guttag, 6.00SC Introduction to Computer Science and Programming is a free and open course aimed at students with little or no prior programming experience. 6.00SC is the fifth of seven OCW Scholar courses planned for release by the end of February.

The traditional version of 6.00 on the OCW site, first published in 2007, quickly became the most visited course on the site, regularly receiving more than 100,000 visits each month. With the additional content and structure of the OCW Scholar format, Professor Guttag expects that 6.00SC will help hundreds of thousands more learn this very marketable skill. But the course doesn’t just teach a programming language—it teaches computational modes of thinking, allowing students to formulate problems that can be solved with computers and implemented in a variety of programming languages.

“The methods taught in this class provide a systematic approach to problem solving that can be applied to thousands of very real challenges,” said Professor Guttag. “By creating this independent learning resource, I hope to put these tools in the hands of people making a real difference in the world.” Prof. Guttag has long collaborated with both local hospitals and the Boston Celtics on real-world applications of the concepts he teaches.

OCW Scholar courses represent a new approach to OCW publication. MIT professors and students work closely with the OCW team to restructure the learning experience for independent learners, who typically have few additional resources available to them. The courses offer more materials than typical OCW courses and include new custom-created content. The OCW Scholar version of Introduction to Computer Science and Programming includes lecture videos, recitation videos and a series of problem sets involving the creation of word games.

The first five of a planned twenty 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, Principles of Microeconomics and Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science were published earlier this year, and Introduction to Computer Science and Programming is the fifth of seven OCW Scholar courses that will be published in 2012. Other upcoming OCW Scholar courses include Principles of Microeconomics, Introduction to Psychology and Fundamentals of Biology. 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 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. MIT OpenCourseWare is supported by donations from site visitors, grants and corporate sponsorship.

About John Guttag

From January of 1999 through August of 2004, Professor Guttag served as Head of MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. He served as Associate Department Head from Computer Science from 1993 to 1998. EECS, with approximately 1800 students and 125 faculty members, is the largest department at MIT. Professor Guttag currently co-heads the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s Networks and Mobile Systems Group. This group studies issues related to computer networks, applications of networked and mobile systems, and advanced software-based medical instrumentation and decision systems. Professor Guttag has also done research, published, and lectured in the areas of software engineering, mechanical theorem proving, hardware verification, compilation, and software radios. In addition to his academic activities, Professor Guttag has had long-term consulting relationships with a number of industrial research and advanced development organizations. He has also worked for many years as a consultant specializing in the analysis of information systems related business opportunities and risks. He currently serves on the technical advisory boards of Vanu, Inc., on the Board of Directors of Empirix, Inc., and on the Board of Trustees of the MGH Institute of Health Professions. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the ACM. Prof. Guttag earned an A.B. in English and an M.S. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Toronto.

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