OLS 2.0 for MIT OCW

In 2005, COSL engaged in a somewhat unsuccessful effort to bring social study groups to MIT OpenCourseWare. I’ve always been disappointed with how the project sputtered and ended. See, for example, the way the Discussion Group page for Linear Algebra looked back in 2005 on archive.org. Our analytics showed that fewer than 1 in 10 people who visited the Discussion Group page ever clicked on the link to visit the Open Learning Support study group. For a project where critical mass is the key to success, this was deadly. Aside from the link being in the same color as the text on the page, I’ve often wondered if the bullet list on the page scared people off a bit:

  • Operates independently of MIT OCW
  • Requires users to register and login to participate
  • Is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting program
  • Does not provide formal access to MIT or Utah State University faculty

Now, there are several plausible explanations for the project not being the success I know it should have. We could have just been too far ahead of our time. Or our implementation could have been poor. Or, we could have just been flat wrong about the entire notion of open learning support. On and on.

I still strongly believe that the availability of open, social support for learning is critically important for any OCW to reach its full potential. So I’m excited to see that, five years later, the idea has finally come round again. And, happily, it looks like the open learning support idea will have a better chance of succeeding this time – with big, colored icons that are super easy to find, and a new set of bullets that encourages people to give it a try:

  • Get help when you need it
    Ask a question and get matched with someone who can answer it immediately and in real time.
  • Work on assignments together
    There’s no need to take an OpenCourseWare course alone. Learn together!
  • Connect with others around the world
    Meet other studying the same MIT courses as you. Help them or get help yourself if you need it.

Best of luck to the OpenStudy team from Georgia Tech and Emory. I deeply, sincerely hope that they hit it out of the park. The movement needs a successful OLS in order to get to the next level.

3 thoughts on “OLS 2.0 for MIT OCW”

  1. Great peek at history, David, very neat to see those two bullet lists contrasted. I was able to test an early beta of OpenStudy, and find the interface very powerful and user-friendly.

    However, I pointed out at the time, and still believe it’s problematic, that they don’t license contributions openly. So basically we’re putting in our efforts at contributing content for free (I answered a question about how to make questions in Chinese), but all that is licensed to the company, which can do anything they want. For example, they could use it to put out a for-profit book, while we would not be able to use the material in a similar way. Strange that MIT wouldn’t have asked for a CC license on contributions when negotiating, obviously being connected to MIT is a pretty big deal, and they might have had some leverage.

    Anyway I’ll be curious about how this develops. Another approach to this is Notemonk in India, which directly integrates material on its own platform, and bakes the social features around them. That might have been an even better approach (especially because for Notemonk, people are more likely to access the NCERT books through Notemonk than through the NCERT page, because the NCERT interface is so hopeless). http://reganmian.net/blog/2010/05/04/notemonk-innovative-indian-website/


    • hi stian

      good to hear from you again. we will look into addressing your licensing issue in our terms. it is not our intent to create the situation you describe in your post. here’s to a successful MIT pilot.


  2. Real-time collaboration requires a critical mass of synchronous participation, which can be a real challenge to achieve. My impression is that the OpenStudy team made some smart decisions on this front: (1) They chose to begin with a few high-traffic courses, and (2) their site design strikes me as one that can degrade gracefully for near-synchronous and entirely asynchronous collaborations. Best wishes on a successful pilot!

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