OpenFiction [Blog]

Share the load

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 5, 2010

I’m always on the lookout for revealing OCW numbers. I spent a chunk of today resorting my e-mail archive to finally fully clean up the mess from last year’s hard drive crash. I sorted things into files by year, one for sent and one for received, and was thus able to generate the following data set:

Year: Received/Sent

2003: 5,587/4,219
2004: 3,849/3,116
2005: 6,203/3,256
2006: 8,041/3,620
2007: 12,498/5,720
2008: 13,474/7,465
2009: 11,884/5,509

To some extent, there is a personal history of the project written in these numbers. ’03, which was a full year (I started January 6th, 2003), was arguably the busiest year I’ve spent with the program–a year in which I managed the publication of 100 courses, developed a major database we still use, and launched our department liaison program. In ’04, the pace was a little slower and I worked quite a bit on the program’s evaluation, which required less communication and more quiet desk work.

’05-’08 chart in part the growth of the Consortium and the increased communication it generated. They also chart increased internal responsibilities as I took on more comunication and management tasks. ’08 was a peak year as we pushed the Consortium through to incorporation and more independance. ’09 was lower as I was less split between the OCWC and MIT OpenCourseWare.

The larger point though, and I think this is true for many people I know, is that my work life is increasingly fragmented into (literally) 10,000 splinters. I’ve felt in the last year or two like I am developing a bit of e-mail induced ADD. I’m finding it more work to focus on tasks requiring an hour or more of attention. I’m looking forward to working on another big evaluation report in the coming months, simply for the opportunity to shut off the e-mail and work on an extened project for several hours at a time.

Tagged with:

Of profiles and pop-ups

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on September 9, 2009

For as long as I’ve been evaluating the use of MIT OpenCouseWare, our highest-level user profile has been relatively consistent. Our first evaluation put educators at around 13% of our audience, students around 40%, and self learners at 53% (these figures are from memory).

The numbers shifted somewhat over the years, with educators moving steadily upward to 15%. Students settled somewhat lower to around 30%, and self learners fell to around 50%. The numbers all seemed to be moving in comfortably predictable trend lines.

At the same time, I knew as far back as 2006 that Firefox was skewing our data collection with its efficient pop-up blocker. In the notes from the report released that year, I described this impact. I also had it in my to-do list to implement a system that would correct for this issue.

For the 2009 survey I finally got a system implemented that did not rely on pop-ups, and while I understood that Firefox was having an impact, I didn’t understand the implications of the impact until after I looked over the numbers. What I might in retrospect have predicted but only became clear in data analysis was the differential adoption of Firefox across the user profiles.

Firefox, it turned out, was being adopted at a significantly higher rate by students than by educators or self learners.  In the 2009 survey, 57% or educators and self learners were using Firefox, while a staggering 67% of students reported using the browser.   As market share of Firefox among students grew, they were being disproportionately underrepresented in our survey results.

For the ’09 survey, the profile numbers are 9% educators, 42% students and 42% self learners.  This shift isn’t earth-shattering, I think, but it does raise some interesting questions.  With the old numbers, it could be easily argued that the predominance of MIT OpenCourseWare’s impact was in the informal learning sphere, and certainly US self learners continue to be the single biggest block of OCW users.  With the new numbers, it appears that OCW is having more of an impact on formal educational systems than has been apparent to date.

No doubt some of this impact in educational systems is “informal,” use of OCW as supplementary resources not directly incorporated into formal instruction.  Among both students and educators, enhancing personal knowledge (informal study) is a primary scenario of use.  But that informal study is occuring within a specific context, with other resources—libraries, peers, instructors—available.

It may be a while until I understand all of the implications of this, but I do think it means we need to look more closely on campus, and try to better understand how OCW-type resources are reshaping the formal educational experience.

A great piece of documentation

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on August 10, 2009

I’m really looking forward to reading this one.  This pulls together many of the early discussions around OER on the UNESCO forum, and is going to be a key reference for those wanting to understand how the field has developed.

As a side note, I ordered the print version, demonstrating how the economics of open publication can work (and also that I am still running Brain 1.0).

Bad news for Microsoft

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on May 7, 2009

As I’ve been doing surveys over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about Firefox’s ability to block popups.  We’ve been using a legacy tool called Netraker that we’d been given free use of by the Netraker company before it was bought out, but the tool was unsupported by the new owner and it was clear we were going to have to move off of it at some point.  In 07 and 08 I really didn’t see a cost-effective option that met our needs, but I knew that our Netraker popups were being blocked in particular by Firefox.  This was not so big a deal when Firefox had a small market share, but I was really concered last year as more and more people have shifted to Ff.

Turns out I was right to be concerned.  This year we used Survey Monkey, which is a nice tool at a great price, and we set up a new invite banner that runs across the top of our page instead of appearing as a popup.  The results have been eye-opening.  Consider:

  • According to our web metrics, 48% of visits in April came from Explorer and 39% from Firefox.  That the first time I’ve seen Explorer below 50%
  • In our current survey responses (in the field throughout April), 56% of educators and self learners reported using Firefox, and a whopping 67% of students did so.

This means Microsoft is losing the browser wars, especially in the demographic where they need to win the most.  I, by the way, use Firefox.

Tagged with: ,

One more big number

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on May 4, 2009

All OCW Consortium content for which we have traffic reporting (which does not include the thousands of courses available through the CORE site) has now revceived more than 100 million visits.  102,568,940 if you are scoring at home.

Tagged with: ,

OCW numbers

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on March 16, 2009

So updates on some of the numbers generated by the MIT OpenCourseWare site.  I find it really humbling and mind-boggling to look at these numbers and think back to where we started six years ago.

– we estimate more than 53.7 million individuals have now visited OCW or our translation sites
– OCW servers have now delivered over 3.1 billion files (“hits”) since launch
– 8.5 million zip files of full course content have been downloaded from the site
– 2.1 million OCW videos have been downloaded from iTunes U, and OCW videos have been viewed more than 2.5 million times on YouTube

That 8.5 million zip files is particularly amazing to me.  If you divide that number by the ~1,800 courses we have, that’s the equivalent of something on the order of 4,700 additional copies of the site out there on users’ hard drives–and who knows what secondary distribution of those has occured…

Goes to show you never can tell

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 9, 2008

Judging by the MIT OCW news coverage, you’d think that 8.01 Physics or 18.06 Linear Algebra would be the most heavily trafficed courses on OCW, and most weeks you’d be right.  These video-rich courses have gotten the lion’s share of the media coverage and are intro courses that appeal to broad audiences.

But this week they are garnering far less interest than an Ancient Philosophy course, which to me highlights the unpredictability inherent in sharing educational resources openly.  Last Sunday, someone flagged the lecture notes of 24.200 on StumbleUpon, and it’s currently number 3 on the Philosophy page.  The notice generated more than 30,000 visits to the lecture notes page alone on November 30th, and continues to drive thousands of visits a week and a day later (5,000 yesterday).

Here’s a course that has been sitting on our site for three years, has really great lecture notes but no rich media and is not a topic one would immediately think of as an attention-getter, and yet with the right exposure to the right audience, generates tremendous interest.  This is another exaple of why my tendancies lean toward publishing simply and widely, ’cause you never can tell what material will be useful or interesting to whom.

The traffic spike also illustrates the value of social reccommender sites like StumbleUpon and Digg.  Don’t be shocked to see expanded recommendation support on the OCW site soon.

1 million visits

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on October 10, 2008

We’re announcing on the MIT site that two of the courses–8.01 and 18.06–have each received more than 1 million total visits, the first courses on the site to reach this milestone.  I wanted to take a minute in this space to comment not about these courses, but about the rest.

To date, we’ve recorded 41 million total visits to the OCW site directly (with our translation affiliates, the total is up over 67 million).  The two courses above clearly represent the short head of our traffic distribution, but in the figures I see a celebration of the long tail.   The average number of visits to any course is roughly 200,000 20,000, so you can guess how far apart the mean and median must be.  And while the two classes above receive over 600 visits each per day, every course we publish–even the most obscure graduate topics–receives at least a couple of visits a day.

If the joy of the internet is that you can find information on any imaginable topic, one of the joys I hope the OCW Consortium will eventually provide is access to materials from a course on any topic imaginable, and we see this long tail growing already.  Millions can learn the fundamentals of physics and math from OCW, and this is certainly important, but those fewer in number around the world who are pushing at the boundaries of knowledge can also find information to help tham move forward, and this I think deserves celebration as well.  A toast, then, to the long tail as well as the short head.