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Why Is There No Canadian MIT?

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) highlights the remarkable accomplishments on the MIT Open Courseware initiative, which today features nearly every course offered by the Institute – about 1800 in all.  More than 90 percent of MIT's faculty voluntarily participates in the program, offering not only their course materials, but also hundreds of audio and video podcasts.  The courses are published under open licences that encourage users to reuse, redistribute, and modify the materials for noncommercial purposes. The user base includes educators planning their own courses, students using the MIT materials to complement courses at their own institutions, and millions of self-learners who use the materials to enhance their personal knowledge.

What started with just MIT has grown into a consortium of dozens of universities from around the world that has published 5,000 courses in many different languages.  China leads the way with 30 universities.  In all, 160 universities and colleges from 20 countries, including Japan, Colombia, Vietnam, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, have committed to publish at least ten courses in open courseware format so that the materials are freely available on a non-commercial basis.  I argue that the Open Courseware initiative is an exciting story of the potential of the Internet, of universities fulfilling their missions as educational leaders, and of the desire of educators around the globe to share their knowledge.

Yet it is also a story in which Canada is largely absent. 
The sole Canadian participant in the Open Courseware consortium is Capilano College, a relatively small school with 6,700 students located in North Vancouver, British Columbia.  The rest of Canadian higher education – Toronto, York, UBC, Western, Alberta, Queen's, Ottawa, McGill, Dalhousie, Waterloo, and dozens more – are inexplicably missing in action.

While collective agreements may restrict the ability to mandate participation, every Canadian university should be able to identify a handful of professors willing to freely post their course materials so that the ten-course minimum can be met.  Indeed, it is an initiative in which everyone benefits – enhanced reputation for the participating professors, name recognition and student recruitment for the institutions, and new access to knowledge for Canadians from coast to coast.

Canadians pride themselves in being one of the world's most connected countries; however, the failure to lead on issues such the Open Courseware consortium and open access to the results of Canadian research suggests that we are still struggling to identify how to fully leverage the benefits to education of new technology and the Internet. Many of Canada's top universities may liken themselves to MIT, but the near-total absence of Canada from the Open Courseware consortium suggests that there is still much to learn.

20 Comments

  1. Jonathan Dursi says:

    I think there\’s probably very little problem finding willing faculty; many, many instructors make their lecture notes available online, for instance. I think the issue is finding an institutional will to push forward on the infrastructure to make it a larger thing than individual class websites scattered around.

    Unfortunately, one piece of infrastructure schools do seem to be bending over to implement is software like Blackboard, which actually helps fence off even the `prof has slides on their website\’ level of openness; the instructors are then encouraged to put the slides up on the Blackboard site, rather than an open course website, and then only current students can see the lecture notes.

    I know that one issue that does come up is copyright; how do you handle the case when an instructor uses a copyrighted image to make a point? In a classroom, it\’s almost certainly fair dealing (and even if not, who would know?) but when you\’re distributing course content that has that material in it, it likely is not.

  2. Terry Anderson says:

    Prof – Athabasca University
    I agree Michael that Canada should be playing on the Open Educational Resources field. Athabasca University now has a proposal with the Hewlett Foundation (the foundation that has funded MIT, Open University, Carnegie Melon and others) to fund open courseware for first year courses. Our proposed innovations in the application are to allow students to gain credit for their work with OER by challenging exams and to create a social software infrastructure where learners can meet and support each other.

    So, we are late, but perhaps still in the game. This is but an example of a larger issue facing Canada – we have no national goals, programs or energy for educational innovation – that would certainly include the lifelong contributions to learning afforded by Open Educational Resources

  3. Big Think
    ‘Thanks to YouTube, Professors Are Finding New Audiences’ by Jeffrey R. Young – January 9, 2008.

    “Forget Lonelygirl15, YouTube’s 2006 online video phenom. Professors are the latest YouTube stars. The popularity of their appearances on YouTube and other video-sharing sites may end up opening up the classroom and making teaching—which once took place behind closed doors—a more public art.

    What’s more, Web video opens a new form of public intellectualism to scholars looking to participate in an increasingly visual culture.

    One Web site that opened this week, Big Think, hopes to be “a YouTube for ideas.” The site offers interviews with academics, authors, politicians, and other thinkers. Most of the subjects are filmed in front of a plain white background, and the interviews are chopped into bite-sized pieces of just a few minutes each. The short clips could have been served up as text quotes, but Victoria R. M. Brown, co-founder of Big Think, says video is more engaging. “People like to learn and be informed of things by looking and watching and learning,” she says.”

    More here – [ link ]

  4. Harold Jarche says:

    Several years ago I formally recommended a similar open content approach to a Provincial department of education, stating that open content could actually drive the organisation’s external consulting operations. Of course, open content was not even seriously considered, as it was a totally foreign concept.

    A similar initiative, the Pan-Canadian Online Learning Portal, directed by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), is taking a proprietary approach to content, which of course will ensure that uptake and use of any content will be slow and will be overtaken by free initiatives such as MIT, YouTube and Wikipedia.

    MIT isn’t losing any money with their OCW initiative. MIT understands that the real value is NOT in the content. It is in the context (excellent professors and peers) and the credentials (a degree from MIT).

    All educational content created with our tax dollars should be licensed (creativecommons.org) for free use by all Canadians, and preferably for the world. It is our obligation as a free and democratic society.

  5. Mekki MacAulay says:

    Masters Student
    We’re working on something like this at Carleton University’s Technology Innovation Management program. Our research is focusing on open source in general, with several researchers working on Open Educational Resources. MIT’s open courseware is held up as the model of success in this space and we are working towards at the very least participating in their program, if not starting one of our own.

    All the research done by Masters students in the TIM program will be available and freely distributable under a permissive license. Check out [ link ] for details and some of the initial works available.

  6. mcgill’s continuing medical education department has something like this:
    [ link ]

    these are vids of talks about various med issues.

    so the platform is there, just needs to me made nice-looking, and opened up, and used for different faculties.

    but anyway, this needs to happen.

  7. Where the hell…
    …is Waterloo???

    Just thought I’d ask one of the more painfully obvious questions.

  8. Continuing Education is says:

    Satan
    Where I work the the biggest obstacle is Continuing Education, who get their mitts on anything that sounds like distance education and try to “monetize” the hell out of it. I think certain pointy-haired types see it as a way to collect tuition without those messy professors. Anyway, we don’t even try to do distance education courses anymore, nevermind open ones.

  9. WebCT and similar closed systems
    Biggest obstacle is WebCT, a system that locks content.

    Before WebCT and the like, thousands of lecture notes were posted by professors in hundreds of universities.

  10. I think this is one of the most amazing tools ever. Been using it for a bit of time now as the political science documents are incredibly detailed and act as an excellent addition to my current courses.

    I think the major obstacle holding many professors back from releasing their notes is perhaps the same reason many do not provide online notes for their own students: control over their intellectual property. While this is fine and I have no objections to it, I agree it would be nice to see some of Canada’s major institutions contribute to this program rather than just Capilano College [which I applaud for their efforts].

  11. quidnunc
    Bobik is right about WebCT. Before that existed content much more comprehensive than OCW was on the internet if you knew where to look. OCW by the way is overhyped. Years later few of its courses have lecture content and notes are either incomplete or lacking any context.

    I’m much more impressed by webcast.berkeley.edu which has been posting lectures online since 1998 for a variety of (mostly intro) courses (unfortunately for those interested in the humanities, professors in those departments are less tech savvy)

    (by the way for those who do check webcast.berkeley out there are some non repeating courses in previous semesters and spring 2008 is empty for an obvious reason 🙂

  12. Executive Director, CVU-UVC Inc
    Canadian universities have not been absent from the open courseware movement. We just have not been as visible or able to move as quickly as the multimillion-dollar funded projects at MIT, the British Open University and dozens of others.

    Canadian Virtual University (CVU) is a consortium of 13 Canadian universities (www.cvu-uvc.ca) committed to use of the Internet to increase access to higher education and to demonstrating leadership in the area of online and distance learning.

    We have been planning a large open courseware initiative for the past two years, are working on small pilots, and exploring funding.

    MIT\’s move was groundbreaking, no doubt. It took tremendous courage to commit to the concept, but they didn\’t foot the bill for making it a reality.

    MIT\’s project has been funded to the tune of about $25 million. The British Open University\’s project at about $12 million. With that level of funding, CVU too could put Canada on the open courseware map.

    Open courseware has been around for a while and there\’s lots of it. Now that the novelty is wearing off, people are starting to research how it\’s being used and of what value it is. The answers are not encouraging. Lots of people browsing, but not many, if any, using it to actually get an education.

    The lack of uptake suggests we are ready for the next generation of open courseware: full courses, with embedded pedagogy to guide independent learners, and pathways for credit for those feel they have achieved the learning objectives.

    Canadian universities may have missed the boat in being among the first to make their lectures, old exams, and course reading lists freely available. But some are ready to go beyond adding to the overflowing repositories of free content. Content does not equal education. In the end, what\’s of most value to an individual is credit granted by a recognized institution.

    CVU’s partner universities are ready to raise the bar for open courseware and demonstrate world leadership. Alas, world leadership does not come cheaply. But we likely could do it for less than $25 million.

    vickyb@cvu-uvc.ca, Executive Director, Canadian Virtual University

  13. Assign topics not textbooks
    I paid $94 today for a textbook that I will definitely return tomorrow, as I realized that I could easily take the chapter titles and enter them into a search engine and find the information I need. I suggest that professors stop assigning textbooks, and start assigning topics, keywords and lessons in searching. This will not only save them money, but teach them to be independent learners.

  14. I agree Michael that Canada should be playing on the Open Educational Resources field. Athabasca University now has a proposal with the Hewlett Foundation (the foundation that has funded MIT, Open University, Carnegie Melon and others) to fund open courseware for first year courses. Our proposed innovations in the application are to allow students to gain credit for their work with OER by challenging exams and to create a social software infrastructure where learners can meet and support each other.
    Matt – http://www.club-penguin.org/

  15. OINLINE EDUCATIONH
    Distance education is growing quickly at community colleges, according to the results of a study published by the Instructional Technology Council. For the 2008-9 academic year, enrollment in distance learning at community colleges grew 22 percent over the 2007-8 academic year, up from a growth rate of 11 percent in the previous year. click here for more information.

  16. MIT
    What is this MIT any way? Since I don’t in Canada.

  17. I guess Canada is having problem or doesn’t want to lay their fundings a faculty to hold a MIT school. That’s the only problem for them I can see.

    Foster of http://skintagremovaltips.net/

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  19. I agree Michael that Canada should be playing on the Open Educational Resources field. Athabasca University now has a proposal with the Hewlett Foundation (the foundation that has funded MIT, Open University, Carnegie Melon and others) to fund open courseware for first year courses. Our proposed innovations in the application are to allow students to gain credit for their work with OER by challenging exams and to create a social software infrastructure where learners can meet and support each other.
    Thomas Hardy