What does LinkedIn think of Open CourseWare?

A week or two ago I posted a question about Open Courseware to the LinkedIn Q&A forum.

  • What’s your personal experience with Open Courseware?
  • Open courseware is a growing phenomenon among colleges and universities throughout the world. Itunes U, MIT OpenCourseware, the Open Courseware Consortium, and a bunch of other institutions show the growth of the this movement over the last few years. Have you taken a free course online through one of the open courseware portals? What was it like? How well did it work? What would you do differently next time?

I got five responses over a week and here’s a summary of the responses.

Sheila mentioned the knowledge benefit to those who want to learn but don’t need the degree. I’m intrigued by the “don’t need the degree” quote. Are the people accessing Open Courseware really in a position to choose whether to get a degree or not? From outside the U.S. it’s less likely a matter of not needing the degree than being unable to get the degree, even if a desire for the degree exists. Sheila added that OCW gives peope the opportunity to “brush up on courses” before returning to school.

Gerry used the MIT courses as an aid to learning theory, but the labs were lacking. This is where the difference between distance learning and in-the-classroom experience becomes critical. New technology, especially easy video production, may alleviate some of these problems in the future. I should look up some studies on the successes and failure of distance learning over the past 30 years. I know we’ve met this problem before but I don’t know if there is anything we’ve learned from the experience.

Freek observed the disparity in course quality at the MIT site. Some courses have extensive material online – syllabi, recorded lectures, readings, slide presentations, and videos – other courses are bare bones, a syllabi and not much else. I wonder if there is a difference among subject areas. Are the humanities less likely to have online materials because there are fewer labs or experiments and more classroom discussion? This might make an interesting research project.

I wonder just how useful is it to have a recording of a classroom discussion that you didn’t personally attend? I’ve listened to a few examples from Chris Lydon on his radio program Open Source. His interviews are often recorded in classroom audiences at Brown and followed by questions from students. The questions are often very good but only take up 10% of the total program. Lydon’s experience is in radio so he brings a different flavor to a classroom presentation than most teachers. The benefit of his radio experience is in the production values - the audio quality is good, everyone can be heard during the discussion period, there isn’t any annoying background noise. For this to work well in an education session there either needs to be a support staff that records and produces the audio or else teachers need to learn yet another skill.

Manu confirmed the opinion that the courses at MIT still need time to mature in order to be really useful for remote learners.

Christine said she used the courses at Itunes U as benchmarks for comparison with her own courses. I like this hybrid approach that combines the best of OCW with the local knowledge of instructors. This model seems like an ideal target market for the OCW people; don’t claim to replace instructors, instead become a supplement to what they are already doing.