Open Courseware lacks Canadian participation

Today’s article by Dr. Geist in the Toronto Star discusses the lack of participation of Canadian Universities in the Open Courseware initiative. Originally started by MIT – which, as Dr. Geist points out, offers about 1800 courses freely – has spawned into the Open Courseware Consortium featuring universities from China, USA, South Africa, and Colombia to name a few. But the surprise is the highly touted Canadian universities are missing with the exception of the Capilano College, a small school nestled just north of Vancouver.

This is a topic that was often battered around during my time on campus at Memorial University working with the Commons. In my discussions with staff it became apparent that there was apprehension against using podcasts or blogs at the university. One staff member even suggested that no professor would want to share his or her intellectual property for free. But the 90% participation rate of MIT – a world leading school – suggests that staff would be interested if the opportunity was presented to them. So why is it a highly ranked and respected school, such as Memorial, would not jump at the chance to join this group?

It could be a fear that by offering their lectures and content for fee they would devalue their work and risk funding. There is the technology barrier and the consideration some professors may not know how to participate from a technological level (how to make a podcast for example). The sister to that argument is other technology barrier, availability of equipment to produce the necessary content and provide it.

However, each argument should be trumped with possibility of advancing the schools brand, attracting students, professors, and staff. It can be have the effect of bringing to light new opportunities for investment and research, advancing and raising the level of education at the school.

Application platforms like Facebook can be integrated – not withstanding the outstanding copyright concerns – into the daily student life. Apple offers the iTunes U for schools to provide their audio and video content. There are a dozen avenues to explore in allowing greater social networking, social media, and interaction between students and the university members.

This is not to say all of the delivery should be or could be outsourced to other vendors. A school like Memorial (To continue with my previous example) could develop its own portal (which it has) and provide content via that system. Some content could even be restricted to the university community using the existing authentication systems, or even to particular classes. The possibilities are only as limited as the resources and time restrict. That said it would be great to see my alma mater become the leader in this field and the first major Canadian University to join the Open Courseware Consortium.

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