Sunday, September 30, 2007

Week 5's assignment:

What do these representative open education projects have in common? What differentiates them? In the context of open education projects, what does "quality" mean?

Comparing six organization's examples of Open Education Projects, I have to agree with Karen that they have more in differences than they do in common. These six organizations are: Open U, Rice Connexions, Carnegie Mellon, UNESCO, MIT, and the National Repository. Rob and Greg have already described the courses individually, so I will leave that out and speak more generally to the set as a whole. The biggest commonality between them is the purpose of providing free and open courses (or parts of courses) to the public, without accreditation. They tend to:

  • focus on higher education (usually 1st year university courses) and therefore focus more targeted at adult users;
  • define "interaction" as writing comments/posts and have a "register" option which allows you to post;
  • view content in the traditional "banking" way - where instructor GIVES info to students to receive (although there are exceptions here);
  • not have a sustainability plan (as most seem to be funded through things like the Hewlett Foundation, and it is unclear what the contingency plan is when this dries up);
  • English focused, particularly an American focus (even a course on World Religions was premised on the idea that the learner would be an American!).
Differences abound though:
  1. The secondary purpose of each site differs. Some, like the Open U and MIT seem to also promote their university in this way. Others, like Rice Connexions and the National Repository, seem to focus on linking to other Universities (Rice does this a lot) or organizations (like the National Repository's links to Hippo Campus and OER Commons).
  2. Some provide whole courses (Carnegie Mellon and UNESCO), while others provide modules that can be compounded into courses (Open U, Rice Connexions), while the others seem to mix these two (National Repository, MIT)
  3. Types of courses also differed. Many offered 1st year University courses, particularly on the Maths and Sciences, with some History/Economics mixed in. But the National Repository also offered Advanced Placement and High School courses on these subjects. Rice Connexions had a great section on Music! And UNESCO gave the kitchen sink on subjects.
  4. Users?! It is clear that several of the sites haven't really thought about their end users (I'd say Carnegie Mellon is the exception, focused on students!). Some of the courses/modules would be most useful for an educator looking for resources to teach. Others are more geared at students looking for stuff to learn. Most sites seemed to have a mix of these, without being clear as to who the info would be most useful to! In fact, most of the sites varied in learning levels as well - yet only Open U seemed to provide a useful scale to know how advanced the information was.
  5. Content focused - what about skills?? Carnegie Mellon's courses were clearly designed for students to learn - and they have spent a lot of time honing the courses to engage students in an active learning way. Many of the other courses read more like a textbook or a wikipedia type knowledge - begging the question as to why I, as a student ,would look here for the information, instead of Wikipedia. Content seems to rule, with little attention paid to the skills that could be learned online. Perhaps the answer to this is contained in Scott Leslie's screencast on client-side extensions and educational resources (which fellow-classmate Abject Learning led me to! Thx!!).
I must say that the site that most impressed me was the Carnegie Mellon - because I readily saw its use in helping students that have to take basic "101" courses, typically done in lectures of more than 500, suddenly being able to learn better through this kind of medium. Their focus on how students would actually engage and learn something like Statistics (as opposed to just posting the content as a textbook) is commendable. Learning, not content, focused.

As for quality definitions, these also seemed to vary across the sites. Some retained their quality focus by just posting their own university's creations (Open U, MIT, Carnegie Mellon). In fact, with MIT, only some courses were really available online, whereas others were really just the syllabi and a few exercises thrown together - it was good quality, but limited content in some courses. In Open U, other creators can create in a separate space - but not post in the learner's space. In contrast, other sites allow content from wherever. Rice Connexions has a "post publication review" in order to allow for the fast pace of the Internet. The National Repository has developed a "course development guideline" which it uses to evaluate each course for quality. UNESCO doesn't seem to evaluate at all - and although some of the courses I looked at were incredible (e.g. Rural Finance Centre's material on starting micro credit orgs), others were an embarrassment, full of Google advertisements taking up more of the screen than the content.
I was very excited by the potentials of these organizations, despite the design improvements that are needed. I still don't quite understand how these organizations will create a synergy between them all. Someone last week had said something like "we don't need millions of 1st year university courses at every U, raising questions in quality - we just need a few really good ones, which everyone can use." (If anyone knows where this is from, please let me know!). How to do this remains an unanswered question.

A last comment, as Edocet asked, and I wondered:
At the end, from teacher to teacher, David: why didn’t you put in the list this resource? –>
Maybe next year?

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