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A decade of open courseware movement

May 08, 2011 09:59 pm | Updated May 27, 2011 04:16 pm IST

It is a decade since the concept of open courseware was launched into the wild boundaries of Net. NetSpeak discusses the varied facets of this flourishing on-line phenomenon.

Net has triggered several fascinating movements with the tag open — open source software, open book, open data and so on.

Generally, a free resource that can be used (re-used and re-mixed) by anyone without any restrictions can qualify as an open resource.

One such movement in the educational resource landscape is the OpenCourseWare (OCW) movement. As discussed in the past (http://www.hindu.com/biz/2010/03/29/stories/2010032955 661600.htm) , the humble step initiated by MIT (http://ocw.mit.edu) a decade ago has grown into a great international movement.

The significance of OCW movement is that it offers tremendous opportunity to a learner especially the one who wishes to update her knowledge/skills independently.

An offshoot of the popularity gained by the OCW movement is the explosion of open educational content. ‘Peer 2 Peer University' (http://p2pu.org/ ) , Saylor (http://www.saylor.org/) , Open Learning Initiative of Harvard extension school (http://www.extension.harvard.edu/openlearning/) and OER Africa (http://www.oerafrica.org/) and the like are a few instances of the on-line locations that host a great variety of open educational materials.

Several prominent educational institutions across the globe have now adopted this movement and the pedagogic front is overflowing with content.


In this regard, you may check out the link from Education-portal (http://education-portal.com/articles/ Universities_with_the_Best_Free_ Online_Courses.html) that provides a list of universities with high quality free on-line courses.

This incessant flow of content from multiple sources could create confusion in the mind of a knowledge seeker and she may find it difficult to locate relevant content. Of course, several tools (like OCW Finder - http://www.ocwfinder.org/ , discussed in the past) are emerging to counter this ever-expanding academic content.


Folksemantic (http://www.folksemantic. com/) , the OER recommender service that indexes open education resources from popular OER repositories (such as Connexions, OER commons, etc) is another useful resource for discovering appropriate open educational content.

OpenCourseWare consortium is a global community of more than 250 universities and associated organisations. The consortium is meant to strengthen and facilitate the OCW movement. Its course search directory (http://www.ocwconsortium.org/en/courses) is an excellent tool to tame the exploding educational content.

The Open Course Library's OER Matrix, a collection of college level open content links, shared via Google spreadsheet is yet another useful means to find open educational content (http://blog.ocl.sbctc.edu/ 2011/03/ announcing-oer-matrix. html) .

An interesting aspect of the OCW phenomenon is the availability of freely downloadable lecture videos.

If you are looking for a search engine that indexes such video lectures, take a look at the video search service Talkminer (http://www. talkminer.com/) .

Open-source software

Apart from the services discussed above, tools meant for organising and structuring content as per one's learning requirements are also in place. One such tool worth discussing is the free open-source software VUE (Visual Understanding Environment), tipped off to this author by Mr. M.S. Vijay Kumar of MIT (http://web.mit.edu/˜vkumar/www/) , who has co-edited the book ‘Opening up education' (http://goo.gl/IIg1x ) .

VUE (http://vue.tufts. edu/ ) allows you to create a mind-map of your course or project and enables you to bring the digital resources pertaining to specific subjects automatically from the Net. A mind-map is a tree-like diagram with main topic in the root of the tree and several sub-topics branching from it.

For instance, the mind-map for a course, say ‘Physics' may contain several sub-nodes for topics such as mechanics, nuclear physics and so on.

With each of the sub-nodes, one can attach different types of resources — a text document, a web address and a video.

VUE lets you attach several resources to a singlenode. Besides this, VUE can search/pull resources from different educational repositories and attach them to the node from which the search process is triggered.

Though a lot of educational content is being released across the web and the concept of open education is gaining fast attention among the academic crowd, (it seems) many learners are still not aware of such resources.

A survey conducted by Education-portal.com (http: //education-portal.com/articles/Understanding_OCW_ A_Field_Guide_to_Free_ Education.html) attests to this observation.

As reported in that survey, around 45 per cent of the respondents have never used OCW. The OCW facilitators like OCW consortium and other open course enthusiasts need seriously ponder over this issue.

Google Docs

Google Docs, Google's on-line office suite, is quite popular among netizens, especially the ones who do collaborative editing.

The recently added ‘Discussion' feature further adds the collaborative potential of this product.

The discussion feature allows any of the co-editors to start a discussion from any part of the document.

As this feature is integrated with email, when an editor initiates a discussion, other collaborators will get notified automatically via e-mail.

Besides being used as a document-composing tool, you can use ‘Google Docs' for document storage as well.

To facilitate this process, Google has introduced a new ‘Upload' feature that lets you upload files/folders with ease.

The new upload facility lets you upload files just by dragging and dropping them over Google Docs interface as well.

He can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com

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