Thursday, March 01, 2007

MIT vs. The Open University: A Step Towards "Turn-key" OCW's

Over the past week I've been involved in some interesting discussions with people at MIT and the Open University about "Turn-key" OCW's. Borrowing a concept from corporate finance, a "Turn-key" OCW is a ready-to-use module complete with all the materials a student needs to learn.

We here at the Stingy Scholar applaud the efforts of MIT, Berkeley, Utah State and other universities sharing course materials. However, in most cases an online user cannot actually, using the provided materials in the OCW, experience the course to the same degree as a student in the classroom.

Perhaps only some of the lectures are on the site (if any). Or perhaps the uploaded materials lack context and are hard to follow. One of the most frustrating problems is the need to pay $100 or more for the course textbook. That's pretty expensive if you're actually enrolled in the class and even harder to stomach just to follow an online syllabus.

A "Turn-key" OCW would provide you with all of these materials. The online user would not be at a disadvantage for lack of materials.

We all love open coursewares, but the movement is still in its infancy. And already we're starting to see two sides form around this very point. The two sides are headed by MIT and the Open University.

With MIT OCW's, we get a glimpse of full, world-class university courses. The full syllabus is online so we see exactly what these students are reading. Often we get pdf notes and reading materials. And in many cases we can watch or listen to the lectures.

Open Learn, on the other hand, provides a shortened version of the paid course. While these self-contained modules might lack the depth of the paid courses, they are complete with all of the materials you need to use them.

Let's review this dichotomy. MIT presents the full course and allows you to access part of it. It's like glimpsing into an classroom through a peephole. The Open University provides you with a mini-version of a proper course. You have your own complete classroom, but it's the "light" version.

There's merit to both approaches. MIT provides a great tool for professors developing their own courses and looking for example to model. It's also fantastic for students wanting to simulate a real MIT course. The Open University provides a tool for home schoolers' and independent learners - people that want to get started learning now. People that don't want to fill in the gaps.

Over the next few weeks we're going to look at some courses that fall somewhere in the middle. Courses that might properly be called "Turn-Key" Open Coursewares. If you've been using some good examples, let us know.

Oh yeah, and check out the MIT vs. Open Learning debate here on the Open Fiction blog. See? I told you it was a real debate.

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