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Reviewing Open Education Resources

January 25, 2009

This post includes my notes after reviewing online course materials available through the MIT Open Course Ware and Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative.


The courses I reviewed on this site all had similar patterns of presentation and components. All had a basic syllabus, course calendar (module list), and reading list. Unique features of each are listed below. Each course also offers a form for users to provide feedback and a link to FAQs to help the user with issues such as downloading zipped files. You can subscribe to an RSS feed of updates to the course list. MIT also encourages donations directly, through related Amazon purchases, and through corporate sponsorship. Overall, the courses reviewed offer solid materials an instructor or course developer might use ‘as is’, but more likely as a foundation to be augmented and tweaked for use in a specific context. The courses are often F2F courses, so there are some blanks to fill in when using these materials for an online course.

  • Managerial Psychology 15.301/15.310

The contributors of this course provide a rationale as to why the course was developed (feedback from corporate employers of MIT grads). The PDF lecture notes are PPT slides with enough detail to get something out of them without having to be present for the accompanying lecture. Detailed instructions are also provided for the course assignments.

  • Contemporary Literature 21L.488

This course is also available in Chinese – just click on the link. This course provides extensive guidelines and tips on writing skills in general and recommendations for specific assignments.

  • Dilemmas in Bio-medical Ethics 21A.216J / SP.622J / WGS.622J

The required readings in this course include a number of online documents and websites. Links are provided. The PDF lecture notes are brief and bullet format – not a lot to go on if you were new to this topic. Examples of past students’ work are includes with the detailed instructions for assignments.

  • Ancient Philosophy 24.200

This course is also available in “Persian” – just click the link. The syllabus here is limited, but the PDF lecture notes are more extensive than in the previous courses – 2-4 page narratives per session. This is a course I would like to go back and peruse. I can see where you might take a module out of this course for use in another (Plato for an Educational Foundations course). Detailed instructions are provides, as well as links to related resources available online.

  • Feminist Theory SP.601J / 17.006J / 17.007J / 24.237J

This was the most recently posted of the courses I reviewed (Spring 2008). Detailed discussion guides are provided that would be helpful for instructor and student. This course has a “Pedagogy” component in which the contributor provides her philosophy of teaching and rationale for instructional strategies included in this course.

Carnegie Mellon OLI

The home page offers links to instructions for those who would like to teach one of these courses and those who would like to take one of these courses. How-to’s for instructors related to course design and course management are provides. There seem to be fewer unique courses than found at the MIT OCW site, but the courses found here are more detailed and ready to implement online. Materials within a course are already organized in a kind of LMS or a format that suggests an LMS with internal navigation and everything already in place. The “syllabus” is a site map for the course and offers the user a link to “test and configure your system”.

  • Modern Biology

This course has a statement that it is still in development, but they have posted what has been completed so far. Full course units are available with text, images, etc. This course also offers an interactive glossary and flash movies.

  • Empirical Research Methods

This was the newest of the CMU courses I reviewed (Spring 2009). It includes cross references to other CMU courses, i.e. “The following content comes from the OLI Introductory Statistics course. If you would like to explore Inference further, please refer to unit 5 of that course.” This course uses MiniTab requiring the user make that purchase and use that specific software for analysis.

  • Logic and Proofs

This course provides a Preface with embedded video presentations to give the user some background. A printable version is also available. A settings check makes sure you can view all the symbols included in this course as intended. A detailed, interactive users guide is included.

  • Physics with the Andes Workbench

Andes tutor software download is required for this course. Tips on learning to use Andes and related resources are provided. Demonstration videos help the user work through this content.

  • Elementary French 1

A “Before You Begin” section makes sure the prospective student is ready to take this course. It includes characteristics of a successful learner relative to this course, time expectations, etc. Interactive video is used in the units and modules. Links to online resources for students and for instructors are provided, including a Google Group for instructors. Unit pages also have roll over translation of key words.

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