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.

OCW and Currnet Events

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on August 12, 2009

I’ve been kicking around for ways to illustrate the usefulness of OCW and OER content, and one simple approach I’ve come up with is to show how it can be used to better understand the context of current events. OCW is obviously not the place to get the news, but in today’s go-go media environment, it’s often not clear where to go for thoughtful analysis and context to background the events of the day. On the OCWC blog, I’ve started a series called Current Events in Context, with posts so far on the Iranian election dispute, H1N1, and Typhoon Morekot. Would love feedback on this approach.

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).

Can I quote you on that?

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on August 4, 2009

I’m always concerned about being misquoted in articles about OCW, something that happens with some regularity.  I spoke at length with the reporter that filed this article and said at least two or three things that taken out of context might have been misleading, and I was relieved that the article did not contain them.

I was also amused to notice that some people have a problem with being quoted correctly. In discussing the possible advantages of open course publication at the community college level, an OU econ professor was quoted as saying:

A field whose methods haven’t changed much since Socrates taught could benefit from this strategy, Mr. Vedder says. “With the exception of—possible exception of—prostitution, I don’t know any other profession that’s had no productivity advance in 2,500 years,” he says. Online, he adds, “is a way to kind of offer a new approach. It’s applying technology to lower costs, rather than to add to costs.”

Ya see, the problem with prostitution—and most people just don’t recognize this—is the lack of productivity gains in the field… Nice.

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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.

Is after-the-fact open posting cheating?

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on June 16, 2009

This is an interesing incident that is relevant to OCW publication.  The argument of the professor is that students posting assignment answers after the due date are somehow facilitating cheating.  The assumption is that the instructor was going to recycle the assignment in a later semester, and this would allow students in subsequent classes to cheat.

This strikes me as being somewhat naieve on the part of the instructor.  The fraternities at MIT are widely known to keep assembled bibles of answers to problem sets and other assignemnts (see “Don’t work from scratch” here), and I’d wager the same goes on at most other univerisites.  In some ways, open posting like this is more democratic, leveing the playing field.

It also shows why teachers really do need to change up assignments regularly. I had a geology prof at West Virginia University who would distribute his multiple choice tests ahead of time and would tell us that these are the questions we would receive, except with a word or two changed in each, which woud change the correct answer.  A very effective method, as it forced you to understnad the concepts.

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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.