Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses

By Taylor Walsh | Go to book overview

(OYC) has taken a similar approach to content creation, concentrating on a limited, “best-of” selection of courses that often feature star faculty and favor introductory-level content to appeal to a broad public. OYC courses have also emphasized the humanities, reflecting Yale’s strengths and perhaps filling gaps in the broader field.1 A careful steward of its brand, Yale was uninterested in creating online presentations deemed inconsistent with the university’s reputation for excellence, and this necessitated its “quality over quantity” approach.2

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) also takes a high-production-value approach to a small number of courses, but in a very different way than OYC. Rather than publishing professors’ preexisting teaching materials or capturing lectures on video that were originally designed for face-to-face delivery, the OLI asks faculty to work with a team of experts to redesign their courses. This process is intended to optimize each course for webbased delivery, building complete interactive experiences that help achieve strong learning outcomes. This approach results in a laborintensive design process, so the OLI must rely on faculty who are

1Other courseware projects have adopted this strategy, both to distinguish themselves from one another and to highlight a given university’s unique capabilities. Courses from the agri cultural sciences department constitute the plurality of Utah State University’s open courses, in keeping with its status as a Western land-grant university. The content of the University of Notre Dame’s OpenCourseWare has a religious bent, including peace studies and courses from its specifi cally Catholic theology department. As Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins has said, “I am pleased that the University of Notre Dame will be contributing a set of distinctive courses to the opencourseware [sic] collection. It is our privilege to share freely with the worldwide community an intellectual and ethical framework for viewing, confronting, and refl ecting upon some of the most complex issues facing our society” (“Welcome to Notre Dame OpenCourseWare,” http://ocw.nd.edu/). For its part, Harvard recently entered the open courseware arena through an arrangement to broadcast philosophy professor MichaelSandel’s popular “Justice” course on public television. The university thus chose to focus its efforts on one star course in an entirely different medium than that employed by the peer institutions profi led here. Airing university content via public television is not uncommon in other countries: as described in Chapter 7, NPTEL courses are available on the web but are also shown on the government-owned educational TV channel Eklavya. Yet Sandel’s course “is the fi rst time that public broadcasters [in the United Sates] can remember a regular college course’s being presented on television” (Cohen, Patricia, “Morals Class Is Starting; Please Pass the Popcorn,” New York Times, online edition, September 25, 2009).

2OYC offers only 25 courses, but all contain highly produced, “hidden camera”–style videos, complete with clean transcription for the remote user’s convenience. Given the expense of the enterprise, OYC cannot easily be scaled up, but its creators’ priority has been to disseminate a few stand-out courses that they feel best capture the Yale student experience.

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