OCWC Raises $350k – Shouldn’t I Be Happy?

Yesterday OpenCourseWare Consortium President Steve Carson announceed that the OCWC has received commitments of $350k over the next five years from several of its university members. In a reference to concerns I (and others) have expressed about the sustainability of the OCW movement, Steve writes:

“Not only are these universities sustaining their own publications, but they are making meaningful commitments to the global effort to openly publish educational materials.”

So why don’t I feel happy at this news? I think it is because I just don’t understand how the OCWC adds value to the “global effort to openly publish educational materials.”

I understand that the OCWC organizes conferences, and this year’s program looks quite interesting, but with registration running at $450 per person (with no member discount), I don’t think membership fees are underwriting the conference.

The OCW Toolkit is a great idea, but this portion of the website is largely under construction. If you’re considering an OER project at your institution, you should check out this portion of the site, as it includes useful things sample IP release forms for faculty. However, the Toolkit cannot be what $350k + $500/member + Hewlett sponsorship is paying for.

The OCWC also maintains a list of members, which one might be tempted to interpret as a high-level overview of what’s happening in institutional OER. However, the list does not include non-OCWC-members like Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, while other initiatives like Rice’s Connexions don’t qualify for normal membership because they don’t meet the OCWC’s definition of OCW. So, while this list will let you know who is a member of the OCWC, it doesn’t actually provide a comprehensive overview of OER in higher education. And maintaining a list can’t be what $350k + $500/member + Hewlett sponsorship is paying for.

The OCWC also maintains a list of news stories about OCW. But as above, maintaining a list can’t be what $350k + $500/member + Hewlett sponsorship is paying for.

You might argue that while none of these individual activities alone can be what $350k + $500/member + Hewlett sponsorship is paying for, together they are. But rereading the list, I don’t think so.

So, while I genuinely like all of the people involved with the OCWC and I continue to be a huge proponent of institutional openness, I have to continue to ask myself… If the hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on determining a governance structure, drawing up incorporation documents, establishing a board of directors and traveling to board meetings, forming subcommittees, setting definitions (that exclude projects like Connexions), etc., had instead been spent on publishing more OER, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

I’m happy to be wrong. Perhaps someone can explain in the comments…

8 thoughts on “OCWC Raises $350k – Shouldn’t I Be Happy?”

  1. David,
    Right as rain, right as rain. And I wonder how loose projects happening at colleges and universities that are open and accessible, if not clearly ordered and delineated fit into such an idea of Open Courses. I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by the idea of making more content open and accessible, and have seen that over the last 6 months the small remote corner of open education I am involved with had over 1 million page views with unique visits from over 290,000 people from 166 countries. And while I don’t think aggregates tell a complete story (or even a partial one often), but fact is that access was under girded by far less than $350,000 (about 60 less), and what’s more, the idea of open in terms of seeing what and how people use the work suggests more than a course, but rather the value of this microcontent in the ecosystem of the web. How oter interact with, link to, and produce from what been created there, and vice versa. What becomes clear here is that open education may be most successful when it becomes an indiscernible part of the web rather than a separate, funded entity that promotes distinction to defend funding.

  2. David,

    Detailed information about OCW Consortium activities is available in the two documents found here:

    The member list is just that, a list of members of the Consortium. We do not believe it represents in any way the breadth of the open education space. There are many fine individual and institutional efforts out there (such as the one mentioned above) that are every bit as interesting and effective as the OCW approach.

    Connexions is a member of the Consortium and on the member list you mention. [Edit by David – they are an Affiliate member. The post accurately says they are not a normal member.]

    Thanks as always for your observations.


  3. David,

    Interesting comments. Did we go on the wrong path with a consortium, which has then to sustain itself? Was there ever another model or another path?


  4. Let’s set aside the question of the multiple categories of membership. It’s distracting from the real question.

    The primary question of the post is “what value is the OCWC adding to the field in exchange for the financial and time resources that are going there when they might have gone to OER development?” This shouldn’t be a hard question to answer – the OCWC has won the support of a major foundation and several universities, so this argument must have been made at some point in the past.

  5. Everybody knows ” demand and supply ” theory and reality.
    People demand credits and degrees from online as well.
    academicearth.org is a very good online content. Perfect.
    I would charge $ 10-20 per course per person for that in order to be sustainable. No project can go on only with donations. It has to be self financing. Self financing is extremely easy for ONLINE. ONLINE Contents can be shared by millions.
    Look up also Carnegie Mellon ONLINE courses. They even open their university ‘ s servers to learners and facilitators and they charge $ 10-20 per course. That is most beautiful model for online and sustainable model. I hope academicearth .org will follow them. Academicearth has almost 1000 courses online of the BEST Universitiers of USA. Those courses should be used by all universities and colleges in the USA and in the world for credits. Every local university can assign a facilitator professor for a course and he can manage the course.
    Opencourseware can not be sustainable without any charge. All MIT opencourseware can become open ONLINE courses like in academicearth.org Then demand will be tremendeous. Opencoursware is 80 % of the ONLINE Course, let it be 100 % with a small effort.
    [email protected] from Turkey

  6. David,

    I think you’re right to question the return on investment of any dollars being put into OER. The Hewlett Foundation has contributed over $100 million to the movement, and some of those dollars have certainly resulted in more value than others.

    It is for that very reason that I think the Consortium plays an important role. Much of the money that is spent on OER is spent in the discovery process and in setting up the initial infrastructure to create, host, and support open courses.

    To the extent that the Consortium centralizes this information and opens pathways for institutions to communicate with each other and share best practices, they can help reduce the amount of time and money spent reinventing the wheel.

    Instead of starting from scratch and incurring high setup costs, institutions could devote a much larger portion of their budgets towards your goal of actually producing and distributing more OER.

    – Richard Ludlow

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