Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama's Free Online Course Initiative

Looking for your thoughts about the $500 Million ($50M per year for 10 years) that President Obama announced for the "creation of a new online open-source clearing house of courses" during his appearance at Macomb Community College on July 14, 2009. The relevant part of his speech is snipped and shown below.

There seem to be very few details about this project at this time. It seems like a reasonable strategy for experienced distance educators to try to provide some guidance for how this initiative is developed.

Please share your thoughts about how this should be crafted.


Anonymous said...

Barry, do you know of any projects where a combination of prior learning assessment and open source are being considered (credentialing models, etc.?)

I believe this is the way to recognize the varying ways we learn now, with so much online support.



Mike McNett said...


My initial, gut, reaction is that whoever wrote this portion of the speech has a very murky and rudimentary understanding of what online learning is, how it works, and what resources are already available. Too many echoes of the scale-up-the-Great-Lectures model of OL learning for my comfort (or yours, obviously).

I have more questions than suggestions, so suggestions first.

Elizabeth raises a good point. I think a useful repository should have reusable assessment tools, as well as learning-objects—simulations, role-playing scenarios, application problems.

The whole enterprise would have to be governed by Creative Commons.

The contents of the repository should align with pedagogies that are appropriate for online learning (not to mention genuine learning on the ground)—collaborative learning, constructivism, problem-based learning. So no mega-libraries of multiple-choice questions and essay-writing prompts. (American textbook publishers have pretty well saturated that market anyway.)

And my questions—

How would the proposed repository differ from existing ones like Merlot and MIT OpenCourseWare? No sense in reinventing the wheel.

Is there a notion inherent somewhere in the Obama proposal of community (and 4-yr) colleges doing a sort of fast-and-dirty instructional design-and-development process in which a design staff distinct from the faculty Legos courses together from pieces found in the repository and then hires adjuncts to “run” the courses? I suspect there must be some administrators out there who could put that reading on it. That’s one potential Dark Side that I think has to be anticipated. (The Syllabus is not the course; the lectures are not the course;…..)

How will accreditation issues, both internal and transfer, be worked out for courses developed using repository components? Hell hath no fury like academic turf wars.

What happens ownership-wise if Creative Commons elements from a repository are used inside a course housed in a propriety CMS like BlackBorg?

And speaking of CMSes, should the contents of the repository be conceived as primarily compatible with the limited range of frameworks offered by the CMSes available on the market, or a primarily supporting personal learning environments and something comparable to mash-ups?

Given that the two examples given in the President’s speech are already commonplace, what might be some examples of as-yet-unimplemented uses which we could envision?

Mike McNett

Instructor, Making the Virtual Classroom a Reality, a program of the Illinois Online Network

Online English faculty, Oakton Community College