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!

Friday, December 08, 2006

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare was the first OpenCourseWare project and is one of the largest and most successful. It is a prime example of the kind of successes that OpenCourseWare enables.

It was the brainchild of a committee of faculty, students, and administrators at MIT in 1999. They were formed to discuss distance learning, and the general understanding was that they would come up with a traditional distance learning program. Instead, they developed the idea for MIT OpenCourseWare, which was, in their words "in line with MIT's mission (to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century) and is true to MIT's values of excellence, innovation, and leadership."

The program now has 1400 courses with materials available online. It is used by approximately 80% of the MIT faculty (on a strictly voluntary basis - no-one is required to make course materials available). And, it has had a wonderful effect on the quality of life and education at MIT.

Enrolled MIT students use it to catch up on classes or to get materials from classes they are considering.

Faculty use it to reach students outside of MIT, and have re-energized their teaching with it in mind.

Potential MIT students use it to check out the courses available at MIT. (It has been great marketing for MIT.)

Alumni use it to check in on former professors and to remain up to date in their fields.

Non-MIT-affiliated members of the general public, from students at other universities, to scientists, to teachers around the world, use it to learn and study areas of interest to them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

But what about... Money?

One of the things I want to do in this blog is address some of the potential objections to the idea of implementing OpenCourseWare at the Harvard Extension School. One of those very real objections might take the form of:

Isn't this going to cost the school money?

And, the answer is "yes, it is."

"But not as much as you might think."

Of course, it costs money to produce content for the internet and to get that content out there (filming/recording costs, website design costs, bandwidth, etc.). But, especially for the numerous courses that are being offered as distance education courses, there won't really be that much of an addition in expenses. After all, distance education courses are already producing the content and sending it out on the internet. Aside from some minor increase in bandwidth, the only real difference will be that the course materials would be made available to everyone, not just to enrolled students with password access.

But, one might ask, "Isn't this going to lose money for the school?"

And, the answer is "maybe, but it's hard to tell."

"And, even if it does, it's worth it."

It's possible that someone will take a course online through OpenCourseWare instead of enrolling (and paying) at the Extension School. If that happens, then the Extension School will clearly not be getting that person's tuition. But, that won't happen that often, and it's not really so bad if it does. First of all, people who take courses at the Extension School get a lot more than someone just following along online (increased contact with the professor and a credit or degree at the end), so people wills till want to enroll at the Extension School. Secondly, having course materials online, in addition to generating a lot of goodwill and publicity in general, is a great way to get people to decide to enroll. Finally, and most importantly, at the Extension School (and really at Harvard in general) our goal is not to make money. Making money is incidental; it's necessary so that we can fulfill the larger goal: teaching, disseminating knowledge. (Check out the Extension School statement of its history and purpose.)

So, as long as setting up OpenCourseWare does not cost so much money that it jeopardizes that goal (and it doesn't), it's clearly a great way to fulfill that goal even better!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

CyberOne: an example and an origin

This blog grew out of a course I am taking at the Harvard Law School entitled CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion. It is a unique course about the power and potential of persuasive argument and creativity online, one which exists in numerous manifestations with numerous audiences and participants. It exists as a traditional course at Harvard Law School. It exists as a distance learning course at the Harvard Extension School (taught through Second Life). And, it exists as an online course open to anyone with access to the internet.

Here is the video that started it all:

The culmination of the course, for those of us taking it at the law school, is a project to create an online, persuasive argument that will convince others to become involved in the project and to create a real change. This blog is one such project with the goal, obviously, of getting people involved in the effort to create an OpenCourseWare system at the Harvard Extension School.

CyberOne is also a perfect example of the wonderful sorts of courses and activities that OpenCourseWare could make available. With it's three audiences (or three sets of students), the course has brought together people who would not otherwise interact with one another, has created great learning opportunities for all of the students, and has gained quite a bit of publicity, as well.

As a law school participant, I have interacted not only with my fellow law students in the classroom, but also with extension school students and "at large" students on the course wiki and in Second Life. For me, the open, online nature of the course has greatly increased the interest, fun, and value of the course.

Just imagine if all the Harvard Extension School courses could be like this!

Friday, December 01, 2006

What is this blog about?

This blog is an attempt to gather information and resources necessary to institute an OpenCourseWare system at the Harvard Extension School.

To do so, this site will gather examples of successful OpenCourseWare programs at other universities, OpenCourseWare-like programs and opportunities already in existence at Harvard, and other good arguments for opening up the great education available at the Harvard Extension School to interested people worldwide.