OpenFiction [Blog]

Gates praises MIT OpenCourseWare

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on April 21, 2010

At his talk today on MIT’s campus, Bill Gates discussed the impact OCW is having on both global education and his own personal education. He says he’s watched the lectures from 11 of our 33 courses with full video lecture recordings, and has his sights set on two more. He does a great job in just a few minutes of capturing both the promise and the challenges of open education at this point in the game. Full video of the event is available from MIT AMPS.

CED Report

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 4, 2009

The Committee for Economic Development, a non-profit, non-partisan business led public policy organization (their description), has issued a really excellent report on openness in higher education.  It addresses an exhaustive array of facets to openness in the higher education context including OER, Open Access, and openness in administration and certification. The report is a great opportunity to understand the breadth of the open landscape as it stands today.

There are a few factual errors regarding OpenCourseWare that ought to be noted.  On page 18, the report vastly undercounts the number of OCW courses available through the Consortium at 5,000, when the most recent self-reported figures from the membership are closer to 13,000.

More concerning is the characterization of MIT OpenCourseWare’s agreement with Elsevier, which on page 28 is described as:

…a more straightforward and operationally simple definition of fair use so as to ease rights clearance for MIT’s OCW; Elsevier now provides blanket clearance for up to three tables and 100 words per article for thousands of Elsevier’s articles.

Our agreement with Elsevier governs our use of their materials under our open CC license and in no way defines or limits our recourse to fair use with respect to Elsevier’s or any other content owners materials.  Were we to use materials employing a fair use approach, they would have to appear on our site with all rights reserved.  Elsevier has agreed to allow OCW to publish materials under our CC By-NC-SA 3.0 license, which makes the materials available for downstream reuse.  It’s a very important distinction.

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.

OK, a little press-releasy for this blog, but…

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on July 13, 2009

…still pretty darn cool:

AASL names MIT’s Highlights for High School to top web site list

Highlights recognized as valuable free resource for secondary educators and students

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 12 – MIT’s Highlights for High School site ( has been recognized as a Landmark Website for Teaching and Learning by the American Association of School Librarians.  An outgrowth of MIT’s renown OpenCourseWare program, Highlights for High School features more than 2,600 video and audio clips, animations, lecture notes and assignments taken from actual MIT courses, and categorizes them to match the Advanced Placement physics, biology and calculus curricula. Demonstrations, simulations, and animations give educators engaging ways to present STEM concepts, while videos illustrate MIT’s hands-on approach to the teaching of these subjects.

MIT President Susan Hockfield described the Institute’s motivation for the program at its November 2007 launch. “Strength in K-12 math and science will be increasingly important for America if the nation is to continue to lead in today’s innovation economy,” said MIT President Hockfield. “Highlights for High School will provide students and teachers with innovative tools to supplement their math and science studies.  We hope it will inspire students to reach beyond their required classwork to explore more advanced material and might also encourage them to pursue careers in science and engineering.”

The AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching and Learning program honors websites, tools, and resources of exceptional value to inquiry-based teaching and learning as embodied in the American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.  The Landmark Websites are honored due to their exemplary histories of authoritative, dynamic content and curricular relevance. They are free, web-based sites that are user-friendly and encourage a community of learners to explore and discover and provide a foundation to support 21st-century teaching and learning. Read more at

Since its launch, the Highlights for High School site has received more than 700,000 visits.  Surveys indicate that visitors include high school educators (34%), high school students (15.5%),  and parents of high schoolers (13%).  In using the site, educators most often integrate Highlights for High School into classroom instruction, increase their knowledge of a specific subject matter, and learn new methods of teaching. Students use the site to help them study for tests and to learn for personal knowledge.

MIT has a long history of support for secondary and elementary education, with successful prior national efforts.  For example, the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) formed in 1956 by a group of university physics professors and high school physics teachers, and led by MIT’s Jerrold Zacharias and Francis Friedman developed new pedagogies for the teaching of introductory courses in physics. MIT also has over 40 successful current K-12 programs and initiatives addressing science and engineering preparation at a local and national level.

The MIT OpenCourseWare site (, from which Highlights for High School draws content, contains the core academic materials for more than 1,900 of MIT’s courses, voluntarily provided by MIT faculty under an open license that allows site users to download and modify the materials for noncommercial use. The site contains notes from more than 1,500 lectures, 9,000 assignments, and 900 exams. Many courses include enhanced multimedia content, including 32 that contain complete video recordings of course lectures.

Media goodness for OCW

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on May 29, 2009

Putting OCW’s best face forward

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on May 27, 2009

A don’t miss in the OCW world–the new addition to Shigeru Miyagaya and John Dower’s Visualizing Cultures class, the units on Selling Shiseido (#1 & #2), exploring the marketing of Shiseido cosmetics.  These units continue the Visualizing tradition of presenting stunning images alongside insightful cultural criticism.  Read more here.


Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on April 13, 2009

I may be bright enough to work at MIT, but if this is any indication, I never would have survived as a student…

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…

Cost per Course?

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 13, 2009

Jared Stein has an interesting post rating the remixibility of various OER resources, a good read and a reminder of the barriers faced by someone wanting to create derivatives.  An important element not captured–no fault of his because it’s hard to get–is cost per course.  In other words, what does it take to produce a course that rates 3.0 on his scale as opposed to 5.0?  What is the difference in cost when starting from scratch as opposed to publishing existing content that is produced in multiple original formats?  What is the cost of updating a course once produced in a particular format?

Costs are important because they lead to trade-offs in the overall volume of materials published.  If you subscribe to the view that only one or two really killer versions of each course are needed then total volume is not as important, but if you are trying to publish materials from a broad spectrum of institutions and cultures, the cost of production is an immense barrier.

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.