open content

Of OpenCourseWare and Lowriders

George has written a thoughtful post about issues with OCW 1.0 projects titled Utah State OpenCourseWare, lowriders, and system design.

A few quotes and then some response:

Utah State University has announced the closure of its OpenCourseWare initiative due to budget woes. I call nonsense (or BS). Apparently OCW needed $120,000 per year. Given the size of Utah State University, I’m going to guess they have an annual operating budget somewhere in the range of $300-400 million. This is not a budget shortfall – this is a commitment shortfall. 120K is a fraction of a fraction in light of the larger university budget.

This illustrates my concern about centrally organized open educational initiatives – they have a single point of failure: funding…

The OER and OCW movement(s) are fundamentally flawed in where they assign openness. Openness is being treated as separate from curriculum development and delivery. Openness is viewed as an after market feature. And most universities aren’t too eager to pay for the extras.

George makes a critical point, and one that everyone needs to understand. The model I call OCW 1.0 he calls the “aftermarket” model. No matter what you call it, it’s impossible to sustain a program that incurs large, ongoing costs that are exclusive to OCW – which is why I predicted in the spring that the list of universities engaged in active OCW projects three years from now will look very different than it did back in May 2009 (yes, all the big names will be gone if they don’t completely reinvent themselves).

George writes, “Openness should be built into the process of curriculum design – it should be systematized.” In places where the process of curriculum design is practiced, like the campus teaching and learning center, this is absolutely true. However, how many faculty actually use such services? Unfortunately, the vast majority of faculty members don’t engage in a thoughtful process of curriculum design – they just do what they do.

In order for open education to reach its varied potentials, openness must become a core cultural value for each and every faculty member. This is a decade-long project if we’re lucky, and requires significant investment in faculty training (the way we had pushes on our campuses a few years ago to help everyone understand the importance of diversity). While we work on that (and we are working on that), the critical question for me is, what do we do in the ten years between now and then? Should we do nothing until we’re capable of doing it “right” in 2020, or are partial solutions (like OCW 1.0 and even OCW 2.0) better than nothing as we make that long journey?

open content

WPMU as OCW Platform Update

For a year now I’ve been running the McKay School of Education’s OCW pilot on WPMU. However, I’ve never blogged exactly how I’ve got it setup or how we’re using it.

Last summer, in preparation for the pilot, I set up WPMU 2.7 with the following plugins installed across the site:

– PageMash –
Customise the order your pages are listed in and manage the parent structure with this simple ajax drag-and-drop administrative interface with an option to toggle the page to be hidden from output. Great tool to quickly re-arrange your page menus.

– Search Everything –
This plugin increases the ability of the default WP search (including pages, tags, etc.).

– tags4page –
This plugin allows you to tag pages (posts can already be tagged).

– WPLicense –
WpLicense is a plugin for WordPress which allows users to select a Creative Commons license for their blog and content.

– WP Pages Only –
This plugin simply changes the default “Write” and “Manage” links in admin to go to pages instead of posts.

Just these few plugins make WPMU quite usable as a no-frills OCW platform. Obviously, this setup lacks the full functionality of something like eduCommons, but you can also migrate from version to version in seconds with a single Subversion command, and we know that this platform scales to tens of millions of pageviews per day (e.g.,

IPT 287 does a number of other interesting things with other plugins, like syndicating all student work into the OCW site using FeedWordPress. Charles also utilized the blog functionality of WPMU to do live announcements, etc., on the site – actually teaching his course off the OCW site. This is another part of the beauty of WPMU – per course functionality.

It’s summer again, which means it’s time for’s WPMU install to get an upgrade to 2.8 and for me to look for additional plugins and bits of functionality that any self-respecting OCW platform should have. We’ll also be growing the scope of our pilot this year (after doing only two courses last year). I’ve already started chatting with the good Reverend about some of the additional functionality we’re going to need as our pilot expands in scope… But I’d love your thoughts, too. What do you think as WPMU as an OCW platform? What functionality is WPMU with above plugins missing that it desperately needs? Are there existing plugins that provide that functionality?

a2k sustainability

June BYU IS OCW Update

With two months of data in the door, the numbers keep getting better and better for our pilot at BYU Independent Study OCW. To date 7559 people have visited BYU IS OCW, and 232 of those people have enrolled in at least one course (they may have enrolled in more than one course, but we don’t have that data yet). That’s a conversion rate of just over 3%! Things continue to look very sustainable…