Category Archives: Open Education

Reviewing Open Education Resources

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.

Motivation for Open Education

Motivation in itself is an interesting topic. Why does anyone choose to do anything? The question here is why would one choose to participate in open education. There are a number of ways to think about this. I am approaching this entry in an attempt to answer the following: why would someone choose to contribute their educational materials, items and content he or she has created and/or collected, to the open educational resources movement?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I do find some resistance among faculty to do this – to allow their course materials to be used in a way that might make them available to other instructors to teach the same class. The value in this scenario is placed on the materials, not on the instruction. The instruction however is critically important to the learning process. Who hasn’t been enrolled in that class where the subject matter was interesting, the materials engaging, but the experience overall unsatisfying due to the specific style, techniques, approach, etc. of the instructor? And the other extreme, when the material is not particularly interesting or engaging on its own, but is brought to life somehow by an amazing instructor.

I reviewed the following documents and invite you to take a look as well.

Possible Incentives to Participate in Open Education Initiatives

Participating in something larger than oneself.

  • Life in academia can be, well, isolated. The opportunity to add to a larger collaboration, a larger knowledge base, in intriguing and gets back to basics in a way – focusing on knowledge and learning, not on profitability and credit. Important to note I think that open resources often do credit the author. So this participation doesn’t have to be anonymous.

Actively staying current and connected.

  • Meeting the expectations of today’s tech-savvy students is part of this movement. Creating digital versions of materials that can be easily accessed and shared is an important step toward adding to the open educational resource collective.

  • Wiley (2006, p. 7). includes this great Deming quote: It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” Making a change is a choice. One must make a lot of decisions regarding change – how to change, when to change, etc.These decisions exist when moving toward open education.

Engaging in the ultimate collaboration effort.

  • Joining an open education effort is in some way collaboration on a very large scale. Creating formats of your work that can be added to existing collections, databases, etc. means connecting your work to that which has come before and encouraging the expansion of your work to that which will come after.

Showing and telling.

  • We want to tell people about what we are doing, right? We want to show others in our field and out what we are involved in and how important it is. Contributing to open education resources is a way to disseminate work to a greater extent than an article or conference presentation might achieve. The goal is the same though, to inform others with the same or similar missions. Accessing others’ work in this way, in turn we might hope to be informed by what they have done.

Donating to a good cause

  • The UN Commission on Human Rights addresses, although not completely clearly, the right of everyone to education. Adding to open education resources could result in a teacher or school in some other part of the world (remote, impoverished, in conflict) accessing instructional materials not usually available, both in quantity and quality. Availability of such resources may even help students/learners who don’t have access to formal education, but may be able to access open educational materials in some other way.

(Very) Brief History of OER

The Open Education Resource Movement

Open Source is a new way to say Free? What is the definition of Open Source, if there is one? Then how do we define Free? I have had this conversation multiple times with colleagues, mentors, and students. After watching the first lecture recording, this was the first thing I thought of when I read the assignment to post a brief summary of the history of the open education resource movement (OER). Nothing is as black and white as what would be convenient.

Wikipedia 2001 & MIT OpenCourseWare 2002

The introduction of Wikipedia in 2001 followed by the MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) project in 2002, seem to be two key points on the open source and open education timeline. Making information available to anyone with an Internet connection, Wikipedia does not charge for access to its pages and additionally encourages users to contribute additional information to its content base. The OCW project also allows free access to information, specifically information related to academic coursework, in a wide array of disciplines. This is an example I bring out whenever I am in a meeting with a faculty member who is cautious about sharing his/her course materials for a course development project that may lead to the course being taught by other instructors. (Tangential note: the instructor is an important and necessary part of a course, whether it is online or not – it’s not just about the content.)

Wikipedia and OCW are still going strong today some seven years later, which is quite a while in Internet years. In the years since OCW debuted, numerous other options are out there for educators looking for course content examples. Additional tools and databases help to further the movement.

Fair Use, U.S. Copyright Office, 2006

The question of copyright and what it means to share information in this way is also part of this history. The U.S. Copyright Office published guidance on Fair Use in 2006. This material provides guidance for how one might legitimately use or treat copyrighted material without having to go through the process of gaining consent from the publisher. Educational use of materials adds a layer to the issue. Often publishers treat educational use differently that other uses of their materials. Fair Use is another gray area and even more so related to non-U.S. materials.

The OER Life Cycle, ~2008

The OER Life Cycle is presented at the link above as a list of specific steps any one of us could take as educators to keep the movement moving forward. Keeping in mind the various existing and emerging possibilities for copyleft licensing(i.e. CC-SA, CC0, CCPlus) what is available as “open educational resource” has the potential to grow in both quantity and quality as the movement continues.