Archive:Proposal for OCW at Dartmouth

Revision as of 04:16, 19 February 2010 by Gameguy43 (talk | contribs) (OpenCourseWare at Dartmouth: formatting--headings are now marked up)
Jump to: navigation, search

OpenCourseWare at Dartmouth

Definition and Importance

What is OpenCourseWare?

OpenCourseWare is the free and open sharing of course materials such as syllabi, lecture videos, response questions, and problem sets. OpenCourseWare (OCW) systems explicitly allow unrestricted use, redistribution, and adaptation of course materials. They typically do not grant degrees or award credits.

In the general movement for Open Education Resources, OpenCourseWare is one loosely-defined system. The name originates from MIT's famous initiative unveiled in October of 2002. However, the label is now much more widespread as over 200 institutions make up the OpenCourseWare Consortium1, including UC Berkeley, Tufts, University of Notre Dame, and University of Michigan.2

Using the OpenCourseWare label is not necessary for sharing Open Education Resources. For example, Yale's highly successful initiative is called Yale Open Courses3 and does not mention the term OpenCourseWare. However, the use of the OpenCourseWare label has great advantages in terms of recognition and access to OpenCourseWare Consortium resources.

Why is OpenCourseWare a good choice for Dartmouth?

It is socially responsible. President Kim has called on us to make the world's problems our own, and one of the world's most important problems is a lack of access to higher education. This has long been a particularly serious issue for the developing world, and the economic crisis has made it a more significant issue for the developed world as well. Freely and openly releasing our course materials would be a great help in addressing this problem.

It is the next logical step in fulfilling or mission as an institution of higher education. We are here because we all share an important value: the advancement of education and learning worldwide. In keeping with this value, Dartmouth has recently taken on two important initiatives: The Dartmouth Youtube Channel4 is a public repository of over 300 videos associated with Dartmouth including lectures, talks and discussions by Dartmouth professors, faculty and students as well as guest speakers. The Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity5, announced this fall, features Dartmouth as an original signatory. Signatories pledge funding “to provide a sufficient and sustainable funding basis for open-access publication of the scholarly literature”

These initiatives communicate to the outside world and to our own community that we are not interested in the proprietary withholding of information. In this same vein, OCW allows Dartmouth to see itself as one part of a greater commons of higher education, inspiring us to draw from, build on, and add to this commons for the ultimate betterment of education worldwide.

It serves as great publicity, attracting students as well as potential professors and donors. In a review of their OCW effort, MIT found that more than one third of their freshmen were positively influenced by OCW before deciding to attend6. There are a number of things unique to a Dartmouth education which could be highlighted by an OCW system—our interdisciplinary approach to teaching Engineering is just one example.

It increases the quality of our work by reminding us to contextualize it within the broader goal of advancing knowledge and education worldwide. This means challenging ourselves to consider how our work at Dartmouth is incorporating and advancing outside work at the frontiers of our various fields.

It unites and strengthens our learning community. A 2005 audit of MIT OpenCourseWare7 showed that 71% of students, 42% of alumni, and 59% of faculty used it. Students use it to learn more about a course they're considering, or to follow along with one that they can't fit into their schedules. Alumni use it for continuing education and to maintain a feeling of connection with their alma-mater. Most importantly, professors use it to observe their colleagues (both on campus and at other schools) in order to learn from their teaching methods and to identify potential collaborations. In this way, OpenCourseWare expands learning across generations within the university.

It provides a great platform for innovation. Implementing an OpenCourseWare system can be much more than a simple copycat move. Since MIT's initiative, there have been plenty more projects that have pushed the envelope. The University of Michigan's Open.Michigan project, for example, has done a great deal to advance the movement as a whole by fundamentally rethinking the OpenCourseWare publication process and releasing free and open source software that makes is easy for new initiatives to adopt their innovative methodology8. Unlike many other innovative fields, OpenCourseWare embraces a sense of community and collaboration, so that innovation is achieved through openly sharing and building off of each-other for the ultimate betterment of Open Education.

How to Cut Costs

Historically, the costs associated with OCW have not been trivial. Utah State’s initiative costs $127,000 per year and the South African University of Western Cape spends $44,000 each year. MIT OCW, by far the most comprehensive effort, has an annual budget of $4.3 million and produces more than 540 courses in open formats every year. The costs include converting faculty material into publishable formats, providing administrative and technological infrastructure, and clearing intellectual property rights for any outside work which appears in the course material.9

Luckily, peer institutions and nonprofits provide great resources and case studies to inform cost-saving strategies.

Ask for Help

A number of well-endowed foundations have helped fund previous OCW initiatives. The MacArthur Foundation, Omidyar Network, Open Society Institute, Shuttleworth Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and Mellon Foundation have all provided financial assistance and leadership to universities pursuing open educational resources. In addition, government grants, corporate sponsorships, and user donations have served to offset costs for other initiatives.10

Additionally, there are a few nonprofit organizations that provide guidance and resources to institutions and organizations engaged in projects relating to Open Education Resources. The main two such organizations are the OpenCourseWare Consortium11, and ccLearn12. Through my work and research, I've gained contacts at both of these organizations. They are very easy to get in touch with and are excited about the possibility of a Dartmouth OpenCourseWare system.

Finally, observing and communicating with peer institutions can be a big help. Many initiatives, such as University of Michigan OCW, have embraced a spirit of openness even in their internal infrastructure, openly documenting their processes and history13. For those institutions which do not provide this type of open documentation, I have found that they are nonetheless very available to answer questions and provide advice. During my research, I've gotten very useful and enthusiastic responses from all of the parties that I've reached out to, including Open.Michigan, Open Yale Courses, Georgetown OCW, and MIT OpenCourseWare.

Involve Students

dScribe is a system developed at the University of Michigan to support their OpenCourseWare initiative. The dScribe system involves student interns working with faculty to collect, review, and publish course materials, reducing the need for more expensive person-hours in the publication process. The specifics of the dScribe workflow are very well documented on the open.Michigan wiki14. Additionally, the University of Michigan has freely and openly released a piece of software called OERca which streamlines the dScribe workflow, walking faculty and student interns through the necessary steps15. Adopting the established and well-documented dScribe system would greatly reduce the cost of implementing an OCW system at Dartmouth.

The dScribe system makes particular sense because it pairs students who are “digital natives” with professors who are often less comfortable with technology. More importantly, the dScribe system fosters closer student-professor relationships and reminds students that our work on campus ought to be contextualized within the broader intellectual sphere. The Neukom Institute has funding for student interns to work with faculty on using technology for their courses. These student interns could become dScribes.

Leverage Existing Resources

The dScribe system and OERca are two examples of existing resources created by outside institutions and designed for use in any OCW system. Another example is eduCommons, a full-featured Content Management system for OpenCourseWare websites which was originally developed for Utah State University's OCW system16. In other words, this software provides a full web system for uploading, managing, and viewing course materials.

At Dartmouth, many departments already have infrastructure in place for capturing course lectures on video. The departments of engineering, astronomy, and physics regularly record lectures and post them on blackboard. Additionally, the computer science department already publicly posts on their website some combination of syllabi, lecture notes, homework assignments and practice exams for most courses17. Once we clear these materials with their respective departments (and, for videos, make sure that they respect study privacy in accordance with FERPA), adding them to an OpenCourseWare system would be trivial.

We also have have a number of open resources and initiatives at Dartmouth which are not course related. At the University of Michigan, their OpenCourseWare system is only one aspect of the larger Open.Michigan project. A similar system at Dartmouth could include the multitude of lectures, panels, and talks on the Dartmouth YouTube channel in addition to an OpenCourseWare project. Such a system could also highlight our other open initiatives, such as the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity and the history and source code of the open source Blitzmail system. We could send a strong message by bringing all of these materials together under one banner.

Release in Phases

As a simple proof of concept, I've drafted a rough strategy for releasing a Dartmouth OpenCourseWare system in phases. The goal is to use the above strategies to quickly and inexpensively reach a “soft launch,” which can be used to generate interest and solicit funding.

Phase 0: Initialization. A “sneak peak” website is created at, which simply links to and has brief descriptions of existing resources and initiatives, including the Dartmouth Youtube Channel, the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity, the Blitzmail source code, and Computer Science course materials18. Particular subsets of videos in the YouTube channel, such as lecture series', could be highlighted as well. The goal in this phase to establish branding for an Open Education initiative at Dartmouth and quickly release an initial “sneak peak” product to drum up support.

Phase 1: Dartmouth OpenCourseWare Soft Launch We use our initial project to continue to solicit support and funding. A Free and Open Source Content Management System such as eduCommons is installed for publishing new course material. The infrastructure for collecting, reviewing, and publishing course material is put into place. This will probably involve the establishment of a dScribes system which will use the Free and Open Source OERca software which streamlines this process. This system could exist as its own entity, or we could approach an existing body such as the Neukom Institute or DCAL to ask if they can incubate it.

A small number of courses have their materials collected, reviewed, and published as an exercise for the new dScribe system. These course materials are published quietly in a “soft launch,” where it is understood that this is not a final product. It is not advertised to the public, but people on campus are given the ability to visit the website and give feedback. This will be useful for getting professors and funders excited about Dartmouth OpenCourseWare.

Simultaneously, departments that already have course materials that are shared internally, especially those which already record lectures, are approached and asked if their course materials can be publicly published and openly licensed. We incorporate already open course materials into our system, such as those on the Computer Science website, adding useful metadata to make it more searchable. We connect Dartmouth's legal council with organizations like the OpenCourseWare consortium and ccLearn to step through the legal issues involved in publishing course materials. This includes establishing waivers and systems of notice to address FERPA concerns, as well as establishing a framework for evaluating whether or not media embedded in course materials (e.g. unlicensed, copyrighted images used in lecture slides) counts as fair use.

Also, with the new federal law requiring that students have access to course book lists, it may be possible to incorporate this information in to an OpenCourseWare system. The body collecting book lists might also ask if professors are comfortable publishing their book lists and syllabi online.

The goal with this step is to move forward with building an OpenCourseWare system, at a pace appropriate for the availability of funding and resources. Because this is not a public product, the project can move slowly or go on hiatus as necessary. Similarly, if the initial steps inspire enthusiasm and support, we can move quickly.

Phase 3: Full Launch Once we have a steady source of funding and a reasonably stocked product, we issue a full launch. At this point, the infrastructure (technology, staff, funding) is in place for a system that is sustainable into the foreseeable future. After a public launch, we continue to look through earlier material and attempt to clear the rights to openly license any materials that are not already openly licensed. Also, we continue to add technical infrastructure to make the website more scalable and open, such as standards-compliant markup, tagging and metadata, API access, open formats, and tools for translation.

Other Questions and Concerns

What is Open Licensing, and Why is it Important?

Open licenses are often used in OpenCourseWare systems to explicitly state that anyone is free to copy, adapt, and redistribute all original media. Otherwise, the copyright law of some countries (including the United States) would make such actions illegal by default. Some people think of licensing as taking away rights or charging money, but in this case licensing is free of charge and explicitly grants rights to users. The recommended license for OpenCourseWare projects is the Creative Commons Attribution license, which allows all uses of materials as long as any copies or adaptations include proper attribution to the copyright holders. There are other Creative Commons licenses that occupy a middle ground between Creative Commons Attribution and the default “all rights reserved,” but they are not recommended because they make the course materials less useful as educational resources. Attaching a Creative Commons license to a published work is free and trivial, requiring only a short statement and link to a copy of the full license.

Open licensing is important because it allows the public to adapt your work to its needs and redistribute it in channels to which you don't have access or to which you had not thought to distribute or don't have the resources to distribute. For example, imagine a small school in a developing country. Imagine that this university only has one computer with internet access, and it uses a slow, dial-up connection. A teacher might download lecture notes and homework assignments from a Dartmouth course and then print out copies for each student in her class. She might also adapt the notes by translating them into her native language, or omitting homework assignments that require resources that the students don't have, perhaps replacing them with other assignments. Finally, she might find that her adapted course materials would be useful to other schools in her area, so she may redistribute by posting them on a message board for her fellow teachers to download.

Who would prosecute this teacher if the course materials had not been openly licensed, making her actions copyright infringement? Likely nobody. However, she might be less able to redistribute her course materials or go to conferences to discuss how they have revolutionized her teaching. She might also be less able to propose to her community or country's bureau of education that Dartmouth OpenCourseWare be incorporated into more course curricula.

This teacher has added value to our course materials and perfectly embodied academic spirit of collaboration and Newton's idea of standing on the shoulders of giants. We should be encouraging and enabling the kind of work that she does, not telling her to hush about it for fear of being sued. Without open licensing, she might be less inclined to use the course materials in the first place, especially if her institution were more well-known and her work more forward-facing.

In conversations about open licensing, some people are concerned about being “ripped off.” The “Attribution” aspect of the Creative Commons Attribution license assures that you are always properly credited for your work. Improper or absent attribution in a copy or adaptation of your work still constitutes copyright infringement, and you can sue. Making a derivative work (for example, one that is ultimately less impressive than the original) and failing to make clear that it is not identical to the original work (in this case, making us look bad) is also a violation of the license. Thus the Creative Commons Attribution license allows the necessary sharing of scholarly work while still maintaining the important aspects of “intellectual property.”

Of course, I am not a lawyer so nothing I write here constitutes official legal advice. However, the ccLearn website19 includes numerous lawyer-approved resources about licensing, many of which are specific to Open Education Resources. I worked with their staff over the summer, and they are happy to offer help.

What About Student Privacy?

When capturing lectures on video, concerns for student privacy are very important, especially given the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Luckily, peer institutions have been doing this long enough that they have already tested out the waters and come up with systems that seem to be satisfactory for addressing these concerns. I contacted MIT, Yale, and University of Michigan, and they all said that they use some combination of these four things: Established “Splash Zones” where students know that they might be captured on video. There were usually the seats in the front of the room. Notice through mailings at the beginning of course periods or even at the time of course registration. Additionally, MIT posts notifications on the doors of classrooms where lectures are being recorded, as part of their particularly strict Student Information Policy ( Notice allows students to choose to sit out of sight of the camera if they are concerned about their privacy. Waivers stating that students understand that they may be recorded on video and that it is up to them to sit out of the way if they are concerned about their privacy. Pre-Publication screening of Videos to remove or minimize the appearance of students in videos, especially those appearances which may be more easily tied to a particular student, and especially appearances of those students who have expressed particular concern about their privacy.

Will Lecture Recordings Negatively Impact The Classroom Atmosphere?

Professors might be concerned that students would be less willing to ask questions during class when they are being recorded. A policy could be made that questions are always repeated by the professor so that before publishing student questions are simply cut out. This might encourage students to ask questions more freely.

Professors also might have more personal concerns about having their lectures recorded. For example, they might feel that they would have to censor themselves or speak more formally. They may even be concerned that their lectures are not “good enough” for public consumption. Some of these concerns can be assuaged by assuring professors that there is always time to make edits later, and that they will have the ultimate say in whether or not their lectures are published online.

If a professor is uncomfortable with publishing recordings of her lectures, she may still be comfortable publishing other course materials such as syllabi, readings lists, homework assignments, and even lecture notes or edited lecture transcripts. This may also be the best compromise when a professor is particularly concerned about student privacy or student shyness in discussions.

If a professor is concerned that her discussion courses don't lend themselves well to video capture, it's worth considering other ways to represent the discussion to the outside world. For example, the Intro to Law and Technology course at Yale has a dedicated website20 that, in addition to a syllabus and reading list (all of the readings are available for free online) includes a blog where students post reading responses and short essays that tie their readings in to recent events. Anyone in the world can read and comment on these blog posts. One could imagine including a mailing list or online forum as well, so that the students enrolled in the course could further involve the outside world in their discussion.

Will Students Stop Going to Class?

Some people are concerned that if lecture notes or even lecture recordings are available online, students will stop going to class. Perhaps some students will attend fewer classes because of this, but the many courses which already publish materials for those enrolled in their courses (there are several such courses in Astronomy, Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science) continue to thrive, as do the many courses at our peer institutions which already have OpenCourseWare systems.

In my opinion, refusing to release lecture notes to students enrolled in a class is just another form of intellectual gatekeeping. Professors should be valuable resources because of their pedagogical expertise, not because they hold the secret key to information. We should ultimately be concerned with spreading knowledge as efficiently as possible, and giving students all the resources that we can in order to help them to learn easily and efficiently.

In the end, we college students are young adults and they can make responsible decisions for themselves. Many of us chose Dartmouth because it is a prestigious yet student-focused (and particularly undergraduate-focused) school, and we value interaction with professors.

Of course, participation in OpenCourseWare should always be optional for professors, so those who are particularly concerned that releasing course materials will negatively impact their courses should not be forced to do so.

Ideas for Innovation

As explained in the first section, one thing that makes OpenCourseWare a great idea for Dartmouth is the opportunity that it provides for innovation. Here, I present two ideas to help guide thinking about innovation in OpenCourseWare.

Explore ways to allow interaction between Dartmouth students and the outside world. As I've already mentioned the Intro to Technology and Policy class at Yale is a step in this direction because student work is openly published online. However, this creates a primarily one-way dialogue. A more direct solution could be as simple as creating an online message board where students and self-learners could meet to discuss readings and lectures. Of course, such a message board would be most effective if professors included posting to the message board as a part of coursework (akin to pre-discussion reading reflections). There may be interesting ways to mix this approach with community-based or service-based learning approaches, where students work directly with local communities to apply their studies to real problems—deepening the students' understandings of real-life problems and the community's understanding of theory.

Investigate cheap and scalable but effective methods to increase the pedagogical value of OpenCourseWare. Perhaps the largest shortcoming of OCW is that universities usually approach it with a “dump truck” mentality, publishing course materials onto a website without a whole lot of consideration for how they can be best presented for effective learning. One way to address this might be allowing visitors to create profiles where they track homework assignments that they have completed or lectures that they have viewed, perhaps with smart recommendations for what a user might want to look at next.

As OpenCourseWare projects continue to crop up with increasing frequency around the world, it's becoming clear that OCW will play a large role in the future of higher education. However, the OpenCourseWare movement is still in its infancy. There are still plenty of questions to be answered and problems to be solved. By building on the work of our peers and adding our own unique twist, I believe that Dartmouth can truly advance the OpenCourseWare movement and even high er education as a whole.

Credits: Thanks to prof. Mary Flanagan, Ahrash Bissel of ccLearn, and Kevin Donovan of Georgetown OCW for helping work through drafts of this document. Thanks also to the people at MIT, Yale, and University of Michigan who responded very helpfully to my email queries about various aspects of their Open Education systems.

Copyright: This work by D. Parker Phinney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. The full terms of the license can be found at <>. Sharing is caring.