Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Summary of Open Teaching topic

David Wiley defines open teaching, as "freely allowing people outside the university to view course materials and informally participate in the course." (

In this same post, Dr. Wiley asks,

When the costs of “open teaching” are so low, I ask myself a question. Do we professors, who live rather privileged lives relative to the vast majority of the planet’s population, have a moral obligation to make our teaching efforts as broadly impactful as possible, reaching out to bless the lives of as many people as we can? Especially when participatory technologies make it so inexpensive (almost free) for us to do so?
He then provides his view, "I believe the answer is yes. "

One research effort in which I am currently engaged is to survey institutions of higher education in the United States to determine the level of saturation of online courses, or online learning objects in the teaching activities on campus.  We are also attempting to gather information on policies related to faculty participation in online teaching for load calculations, evaluation for rank and status reviews, and compensation for participating in these on-line efforts. I am motivated to better understand these practices in consideration of my professional responsibilities in my current assignment.  This information is critical to the formulation and defense of strategies that I believe are important to the future efforts of my organization.

The major costs associated with providing instruction online is in the creation of effective instructional design, development of the learning objects and instructional materials, and making them functional in online formats.  Even the identification and integration of freely available OER requires human resources. There appears to be significant movement in institutional strategies to shift more to online instruction.  Practices such as "flipping the classroom" or the using blended models of instruction are gaining acceptance at many colleges and Universities. 

At my own institution we have participated in a recent investigation of the possibility of implementing more complete online course experiences for our on-campus students.  The investigation was initiated by the highest levels of the administration and we were asked to spearhead the investigation, and subsequent development of this online instruction.  As we met with the various colleges and departments on campus we found that some had already developed courses that were currently being offered entirely online.  Others were heavily involved in developing courses in blended formats.  This was a revelation to many at our institution.  

As the institution prioritizes the teaching of courses through these technology rich formats, many of the costs incurred in developing these online resources and instructional objects change from an additional marginal additional cost of development, and become instead the primary initial development cost of the instruction.  This change significantly reshapes the dynamics of the sustainability conversations for providing Open Courses and Open Teaching.  The conversation aligns much more closely with Dr. Wiley's observation quoted above that "participatory technologies make it so inexpensive (almost free) for us to do so?"

The marginal cost of providing open versions of courses when that course is already prepared and developed in online formats is minimal - some research suggests below $1,000 per course (see Johansen & Wiley  The conversion cost be even lower when the development efforts are planned with the open delivery being considered as well as on-campus use.  Such planning could further minimize the cost of conversion.

Other readings on this topic page concern the expansion of open courses and teaching into the MOOC format.  Many of the readings describe MOOC experiences and describe the differences in learning objects, pedagogical designs, and tools for teaching these courses.  It will be interesting to watch the evolution of MOOC in the future. 

In my earlier post on Open CourseWare I included reference to the experience at Stanford in the fall of 2011 with the AI course taught as a MOOC  This effort resulted in more than 23,000 participants around the world receiving some recognition for completing the course.  The non-credit participants received a letter from the instructor (Sebastian Thrun) that documented their participation and included their class rank.  Other participant who complied with certain policies were able to receive Stanford credit for completing the course.

Dr. Thrun has since left the employment at Stanford and is engaged in teaching MOOC through a new education venture named Udacity.

A visit to Thrun's home page finds this pronouncement regarding his views of education and his motivation to reach out through the Udacity venture:  He states:
You can take my latest class online and for free at UDACITY. Udacity stands for "we are audacious, for you, the student".
I am against education that is only available to the top 1% of all students. I am against tens of thousands of dollars of tuition expenses. I am against the imbalance that the present system brings to the world. I want to empower the 99%. I want to democratize education. Education should be free. Accessible for all, everywhere, and any time.
Help me spread the world. I can't do this alone.
Thrun describes his experience with the AI course (as quoted at this web site) as:
One of the most amazing things I've ever done in my life is to teach a class to 160,000 students. In the Fall of 2011, Peter Norvig and I decided to offer our class "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" to the world online, free of charge.
We spent endless nights recording ourselves on video, and interacting with tens of thousands of students. Volunteer students translated some of our classes into over 40 languages; and in the end we graduated over 23,000 students from 190 countries. In fact, Peter and I taught more students AI, than all AI professors in the world combined.

This one class had more educational impact than my entire career.
The motivations that Thrun lists here seem to be the most common element that must be present for an open movement to have sustained life.  There must be a committed protagonist who champions the effort with these noble desires.  While there may be some politically-charged vernacular in the words he has chosen to verbalize his motives, the nobility of intent is present.  There is an ongoing theme of "to whom much is given much is expected."

The Hilton paper linked on the topic page for Open Teaching ( makes reference to two issues regarding the experience in Dr. Wiley's 2009 Open Education course.  One observation from the survey data is that the student-student interaction was valued but that the synchronicity of that interaction was important to student/participant engagement and sense of camaraderie amongst those engaged in the class.  There was a desire on the part of some of the participants responding to the survey to have more immediate and synchronous interactions during the class sessions, even if they were distant from the classroom.  If this is a common element of engagement in MOOC formatted courses, then there would be a tremendous logistical challenge (and possible human resource need) to offering this open teaching experience in a course with thousands of participants.

The second point of reference in the Hilton article is the amount of time that is required from the instructor to prepare, administer, and interact with  the course.  In the Hilton research, Dr. Wiley intentionally minimized the interaction to limited time each week.  There were implications of this decision on the learning experiences of the students compared to earlier courses where his interaction was greater.  Thrun noted that he and Peter Norvig (the other instructor teaching the course) spent "endless nights recording ourselves on video, and interacting with tens of thousands of students."  They also depended on volunteers to develop the course for delivery.  The course also offered actual University credit to those participating at a distance providing they complied with certain policies regarding the taking of assessments.  Teaching large MOOC courses will require logistical and human resource overhead that will require funding.

One final note in this post.  I shared the story of the Stanford AI course and the subsequent resignation by Dr. Thrun from his position at Stanford because he saw the potential to serve so many more students.  One of the administrators at our University made the comment that he may be saying he left voluntarily, but that he (the administrator) heard that the University was not pleased because he initiated the MOOC without vetting and provided credit for some distance participants without curriculum approval.  He also heard that Stanford was greatly concerned with the letters that he provided to participants who completed the course without the credit option.  It was an illustration that the centuries-old traditions governing education, particularly higher education, will continue to be difficult to those espousing more openness in teaching and course provision.

1 comment:

  1. Darin, the story that you describe hearing in the last paragraph is fascinating. Both versions of the story are fully possible.

    Sebastian's sets him up as a rebel with a cause who was willing to sacrifice everything. This version may be suspect as it sounds a little self serving.

    This new version smacks a little bit of the old guard trying to spin what happened in a way protective of the traditional model. This version sounds a little self serving as well, making it a little suspect to my mind.

    I have often said that openness will spurn a Reformation in higher education. Does Sebastian sound a bit like Martin Luther, with noble goals and ambitions - democratizing access to education instead of access to the scriptures and direct access to God, unmediated by priests? Does the administration's response sound a bit like the Catholic Church's reaction? Excommunication?

    It is my fervent desire that a Reformation not happen - with many faculty expelled from universities, only to see the institutions make the reforms they had pioneered years after the internal conflict has done serious damage to the institution and ruined the faculty's lives. I pray that we can learn this one lesson vicariously.