fake news

Moving On

UPDATE: FOR THOSE OF YOU READING AFTER APRIL FIRST, THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOL’S POST. (See the first line and the last link for confirmation.)

Despite today’s date, which will correctly make this post impossible to believe, it is with a mixture of excitement, sadness, and dishonesty that I announce that I am leaving BYU.

“Once in a lifetime” opportunities never come for some people. But for me, they have come twice. The first was the opportunity to work at BYU. I suppose most of the readers of my blog have never been to BYU and know little about it other than its affiliation with the LDS (Mormon) church. BYU’s mission statement reads:

The mission of Brigham Young University–founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.

On those mornings when I wake up exhausted from late-night care sessions with my little ones and ask “why is it I’m getting out of bed?” I think of that mission statement. I think of the David O. McKay School of Education’s mission statement, as well – not to be the best school of education in the world, but the best school of education for the world. I think about the goals our incredible Dean Young has set for the MSE, like “extend[ing] the benefits of our research and creative work to a changing world.”

BYU is a place where I can pursue my work on open education in both a scholarly and spiritual context. I’ve never felt the need to apologize to anyone here for my feelings that because God has blessed my life beyond what I deserve or could describe, I want to do everything I can to bless the lives of others as one way of expressing my gratitude and love for Him.

But, despite the almost miraculous alignment between my personal / professional goals and the work environment here at BYU, some opportunities are just too rare to let pass by. As a famous baseball player once said, “You have to swing at the strikes.”

So when a headhunter approached me six weeks ago about an opportunity to be involved in “a real game-changer” I had to at least watch the pitch. I was incredulous as he described to me a stealth-mode project being jointly launched by Pearson (purveyors of the world’s finest quality textbooks), Reed Elsevier (purveyors of the world’s finest academic journals) and Blackboard (purveyors of the world’s finest learning management system). Of course, I’m not a big fan of any of these companies individually. But I slowly began to understand that when they work together something really special emerges.

Imagine, if you will, a single system that seamlessly integrates deep access to the full-text and full-multimedia of the world’s best educational resources (from Pearson) and the world’s best research (from Elsevier), enhanced by the incredible capabilities of the world’s best educational technology (Blackboard). The possibilities are almost limitless…

I say almost limitless because the fee to purchase a temporary, one year license to access the content costs the GDP of a small nation. While this was initially a concern for me, I came to see that there are many large nations in the world, and in fact most of the people in the world live in them (that’s why they’re large!). So even though the access fees are at first blush immorally high, most people will be covered. (Parenthetically, I might add that it’s highly unlikely that anyone so poor that they can’t afford access to the system would understand anything within it, anyway… so no big loss there, really).

I also say almost limitless because the technological capabilities provided by Blackboard are the only technological capabilities provided. Because fidelity of implementation is such an important part of insuring the repeatability and generalizability of educational research, and because relying on research-based methods is critical to national competitiveness in the emerging global economy, Blackboard has architected their system in such a way that prevents irresponsible experimentation that is not supported by evidence-based research. While many readers of my blog are interested in so-called “Web 2.0” alternatives that provide greater flexibility and broader possibilities, a brief moment of honest introspection will demonstrate that these allowances come only with significant risk to students. (When my good friend Andy used to say that the primary role of government in all its forms is protecting stupid people from themselves, I never understood what he meant. But when I recognized the beauty and moral superiority of what Blackboard has done by locking down their system, protecting well-meaning but hapless educators from their own inept curiosity about the teaching process, I finally understood Andy’s point.)

While I realize that some of you will think I’m selling out by accepting the offer to head up the incredible nexus of organizations represented by this new spin-off company, I don’t see it that way. I see it more as an opportunity to secure my long-term financial independence despite the obvious ethical dilemmas and cognitive dissonance such a move causes.

Besides, these companies are so large and so wealthy that they must be getting it right. You can’t argue with success. I mean, they couldn’t snooker that many people into paying them that much money year after year if their model was both morally bankrupt and hopelessly out-of-touch with the basic realities of modern life, right?

Learn more about the future of education at

open content

Thank You, Marion

Utah State University OpenCourseWare is, I believe, the country’s second biggest OCW collection with over 80 courses (MIT OCW is, of course, the largest). USU OCW is consistently in the top five results when Googling for “Utah State University” (with or without quotes). And for four years, Marion Jensen has been the fearless leader of USU OCW. Recently, Marion provided what unfortunately appears to be his final project report:

We average as many as 2,000 unique visitors to the site every day from all over the world. We have mirror sites up in Africa, China, and Indonesia (that we know of). Our site has been translated into several languages, and is the third most visited site on the domain. Being the OCW director is something I’ve loved doing the last four years.

However, it is coming to a close.

Budget cuts have resulted in the program coming to an end. We’ve spent the last six months scrambling to find a way to keep the lights on. We’ve sought after state money, private money, grant money… We’ve found nothing, so as of June 29th, I will be starting a new job.

It’s heartbreaking to see the project come to an end. Hopefully, as Justin’s dissertation demonstrates that universities can provide a significant public good AND generate revenue at the same time through OCW, USU will reconsider its decision to shutter the program.

With help from many other supportive staff at COSL, Marion has admirably led this project to great heights in public service and has been responsible for bringing a significant amount of notoriety and public regard to Utah State University. Marion, thank you. God speed in your new efforts.

a2k open content


Just a quick update on the BYU Independent Study OCW. A few weeks ago I gave the following initial status report:

So far the results are very positive – 85 of the 3500 people who visited the OCW site last month registered for for-credit courses. In other words, 2.4% of people who visited the OCW site during its first month became paying customers of BYU IS.

The latest data say that we have now had 5529 visitors to BYU IS OCW and that 136 of those visitors have enrolled in credit-bearing courses. In other words, 2.5% of the people who have visited the OCW site have become paying customers. Remarkably stable, eh?

I’ve said before the BYU IS is in a remarkable position because of its prior commitments to improve student affordability. For many years now the BYU IS course development model has been to build content-complete online courses from scratch (without licensing external resources or requiring students to purchase any textbooks or additional resources) in order to keep the cost down for students. The traditional online course financial model successfully supports this strategy. So, since BYU IS owns all the IP in its courses, conversion to OCW format and open licensing is ~very~ inexpensive.

The cost data are not final, but it looks like the last batch of semester-long, content-complete online courses converted to OCW cost about $1000 a piece to convert. That’s $1000 to put a semester-long, content-complete online course into OCW under an open license – all the development, maintenance, and update costs are paid for by the traditional online course business model. As the course conversion process is refined, there is still room for that cost to go down.

When you put the visitor conversion rate together with the course conversion cost, you have a recipe for an opencourseware initiative that can pay for itself forever and bless the lives of millions of people. These two kinds of conversion (visitor conversion rate and course conversion cost) aren’t the kind of “conversion” we traditionally associate with BYU, but they do seem to be ‘working together for good’ (D&C 90:24).

Those of you who know me know that my passion and commitment to the open education movement come from my faith. As this is a Sunday post, I’ll take the liberty of sharing some of the scriptures that influence my thinking about open education.

14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

25. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
28. Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
33. He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (2 Ne 26:25-33)

The BYU IS OCW experiment continues, and I’ll keep updating you all on it…