Saturday, December 30, 2006


One of the other participants in CyberOne has created a sample Open CourseWare site for a fictional, but fascinating-sounding course, Law and the Constitution in the Superhuman Age . Check it out, not only for a fun example of what an Open CourseWare site can look like, but also for a fun look at some issues of Constitutional import ... maybe.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Harvard Medical School, MyCourses

At the Harvard Medical School, they have already begun to implement some OpenCourseWare, through their MyCourses Open Courseware Initiative. It has material from loads of courses from "Human Pathology" to "Fundamentals of Implant Dentistry" to "Structural Acupuncture for Physicians." (Just click on "View Course List.") For some courses, it is just illustrations and graphics or .pdfs of lectures, but for others there is significant material.

The Harvard Medical School has made it very simple for faculty to include materials int he project: "Every faculty member at Harvard [Medical School], in every course, may share course content with the public by simply checking a box on a web page to identify course resources to post to the Open Courseware Initiative." They have done so because they recognize their "moral obligation to share [their] knowledge with other academic communities and the general public."

And, be sure to check out the "Virtual Patient" (second-to-last on the Course List). You can interview and try to diagnose virtual patients who come to you with particular symptoms/complaints!

Monday, December 11, 2006

But what about... The Harvard Name?

One possible objection to opening up the Extension School to people online is that it might somehow dilute the prestige or the strength of the Harvard name. To some this might seem like a silly concern or even an elitist one, but there are good reasons to consider it (especially since I think, in the end, it turns out not to be a problem). After all, the people who are at Harvard (the students, the faculty, the administrators, everyone) have worked very hard to get there. (As someone who did not get in as an undergraduate and then again as graduate before finally succeeding as a law student, I should know!) They are justifiably proud of the accomplishment and it is not just snobbishness that makes us want to display our diplomas on the wall.

Plus, if you think about it, the name recognition helps the school do what it does so well: educate people, conduct cutting-edge research, train future leaders, and all of that. These are important activities and if it weren't for the strength of the Harvard name, if it weren't for the respect that it generates (and the money, in the form of donations, grants, etc.), Harvard would have a lot harder time accomplishing them.

So, it is not a silly or an elitist concern to worry about the effects of setting up OpenCourseWare at the Extension School. After all, will it mean the same thing to say "the course I took at Harvard" if some version of that course is available to everyone online?

Luckily, I don't think that this will actually turn out to be a problem.

First, OpenCourseWare can actually improve Harvard's reputation. The good publicity can make the institution as a whole look a lot better, actually combating the image of Harvard as an elite institution that excludes people. It can generate a lot of goodwill worldwide, much like the general good-feeling that the Extension School itself generates in the Cambridge community.

Second, there's no real harm in it. After all, those of us who ARE sometimes worried about the prestige of our institution and who do relish the thought of pointing to the diploma on the wall (and the doors that it will open) should remember that OpenCourseWare is not a degree-granting program. While it will share the knowledge and the resources of Harvard more broadly (and who wouldn't want that?), it won't be giving away or devaluing the credit for actually taking, and excelling in the courses that a degree indicates.

It's the best of both worlds!

(To hear me actually talking about this on an mp3, click here.)

(Oh, and even better, to hear Patrick Engelman - an Extension School student from CyberOne - talk and rap about it, click here. Believe me, it's worth listening to!)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Computer Science E-1, at HES

In addition to CyberOne, the Harvard Extension School had another course this Fall which generated a lot of buzz on the internet and which provides a great example of what OpenCourseWare at the Extension School could look like:

Computer Science E-1

This course, taught by David Malan, is a distance education course at HES, an introduction to Computer Science and the internet. Malan has made most of the course material available online (not just to enrolled distance education students) in the form of lectures, videos, a podcast, and online course materials like assignments and problem sets.

The course has been highly successful and was recently recognized by Wired magazine (click on the "story images" in the left column for the full story) in an article about college courses as podcasts, where they named it the "best podcast we found" and said that "if every undergrad watched this series, IT help desks would be out of business."

So, what does the success of this one course tell us about the viability of a more widespread OpenCourseWare project at the Extension School? Well, first, it shows that it is possible. Professor Malan was able to set it up, and having a centralized system would allow even less tech-savvy teachers to make their materials available. Second, it shows that there is a market and a desire for this material online. The podcast and lectures have been immensely popular. Third, it shows that the Extension School and Harvard as a whole can benefit from OpenCourseWare, through the great publicity. Finally, of course, it shows that this is a great and effective way to do what the Extension School is designed to do, make knowledge and education available to everyone!