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Phil Long and Open Courseware 51

WebWord Usability writes: "The Technology Source is running an interview with Phil Long. It is mainly about open source software and open courseware development at MIT (e.g., Open Knowledge Initiative). If you're interested in this stuff, CREN will be streaming a discussion with Vijay Kumar and Phil Long on Thursday 7-March-2002 at 4PM EST. Still want to know more? Syllabus Magazine ran an article on OpenCourseWare in January 2002."
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Phil Long and Open Courseware

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  • Open Knowledge and Open Source Initiatives:
    An Interview with MIT's Phil Long
    by Steven W. Gilbert and Phillip Long

    Phil Long is currently the senior strategist for the Academic Computing Enterprise at MIT. He has been termed a "compassionate pioneer" for his work initiating new projects, new ideas, and new w
    ays of doing things, while demonstrating compassion through his willingness and commitment to help his colleagues move along in the same direction. Now at MIT, Long is working on several important initiatives in open source software and open courseware development.

    The open source software development approach makes the source code of software freely and easily available to almost anyone. Ideally, under the open source approach, a large community of capable individuals contributes to improvements in that source code, while a quality control system manages the interactions. This interview focuses on two initiatives at MIT that are working to apply the open source approach to produce the practices, tools, and content necessary for higher education.

    Steve Gilbert [SG]: Can you tell us about your work in open source software development?

    Phil Long [PL]: We have two major projects underway at MIT. The first is OKI , the Open Knowledge Initiative. OKI was developed to support faculty who were trying to do more sophisticated and creative things with online education, but who were becoming increasingly frustrated with the available tools and products. Stanford University had been dealing with a similar circumstance and coming to a similar conclusion (for example, see their recent announcement regarding their adoption of the CourseWork system). We began conversations about developing something modular and fundamentally open-source that would allow for smooth integration of a learning management system into a variety of different existing enterprise systems on campuses, so that we could work on it as a community. The intention was to build an open-source architecture for online delivery of material, initially using a browser as the anticipated user interface, though we do not want to be dependent exclusively on Web technologies.

    The OKI architectural design is both layered and flexible. It is layered in the sense that services required by learning modules should be provided to the designer without necessitating that s/he reinvent them. By services, I'm referring to basic needs such as authentication, authorization or logging user input. It is flexible in that the instructional designer can chose to incorporate whatever functions they wish, and omit those they don't want. This is different from courseware vendors who have approached the problem by designing a suite of integrated functions for presenting content, managing class lists, quizzing, etc. A faculty member might want to have just a simulation engine and discussion list, and the instructional designer should be able to provide just that.

    OKI was originally conceived of as a project with MIT taking the lead, partnering with Stanford and looking for a third institution to join the team. We were overwhelmed by the community interest and the offers to contribute to the effort. In response, and in consultation with the Mellon Foundation, we have broadened the participation in the development of OKI to eleven institutions. We are expecting our partners not only to contribute to the design of the system, but to build tools to broaden the functionality of the learning management system. We are also getting advice from our OKI advisory committee of academic technology leaders from around the US and England. I should note that we are also working closely with other efforts, including IMS and the ADL-CoLab project.

    The second major initiative in teaching and learning online is the OpenCourseWare initiative (OCW). The idea behind the OCW is to provide the content of MIT education to anyone anywhere in the world for use, reuse, modification, or enhancement. It is meant to be free to stimulate other institutions nationally and internationally to improve themselves, and by extension, us. OCW reflects the value proposition we have about what is important about an MIT education--namely, that an MIT education is fundamentally about putting excellent students together with excellent faculty supported by strong resources. The learning materials that students use and faculty create to support teaching are important, but secondary to the equation. As such, the content can be shared freely without jeopardizing the real value of learning at MIT. This decision is a result of community discussions among MIT faculty regarding MIT's approach to online instruction and content. The infrastructure used to deliver this content is the focus of OKI; the content itself is province of OCW.

    SG: MIT has been careful to make it clear that making this material freely available does not mean that MIT courses are available online. Many people, however, do not seem to have grasped this point.

    PL: People send e-mails asking, "How can I take the OpenCourseWare class to get my degree?" OpenCourseWare is not an online teaching environment; it is the opportunity to have faculty at MIT present their view of good teaching material, the sequencing of teaching material, good problem sets, and appropriate types of activities. It is a representation of content and sequencing and thoughtful selection and juxtaposition of materials. It is an exposure to a public audience of the decisions and processes that faculty members go through to come to the point of having a collection of resources and materials to use when teaching a particular course.

    SG: Suppose in a couple of years the Open Knowledge Initiative has been successful in developing the tools and materials that you have described for us. Could somebody at another institution then start using those tools and materials from the OpenCourseWare initiative and say, "I've got the tools that were developed for and by MIT people, I've got the content for and by MIT people, so I'm really offering what amounts to an MIT course"?

    PL: We do hope our material will be freely used by anybody and everybody. But we are approaching the distribution of this material in a measured manner. We have not yet finished developing the source code for the Open Knowledge Initiative, beyond pieces of it and a test environment that acts as a proof of concept for some of the design. These elements do not make an MIT education. An MIT education requires a combination of the content in conjunction with a faculty member and the critical element, the students, mixed together in an environment that supports inquiry and provides first-rate facilities to support the pursuit of knowledge. I would say that some variation of this would be true of any institution. The faculty's choice of materials and their choice of delivery vehicles for those materials are important but insufficient in fully defining what it is to get an education at the university.

    SG: And at the individual course level?

    PL: We want to develop innovative pedagogical tools that allow for exploration of disciplines and specific content in ways that we have not had before. But how it's used, when it's used, and the choice of learning objectives must be determined by the faculty. An example of an innovative pedagogical tool might be something that guides a student through creating and expanding a reflective record of their coursework. This is sometimes referred to as a student portfolio.

    SG: Is the budget of the OpenCourseWare initiation available, so that other institutions can see what is involved financially in this project?

    PL: The preliminary budget for OCW called for an initial level of $11 million. The goal of this early phase is to investigate the processes that will be required for successful production of the final OCW Web site. The development team will be working with faculty to design a set of draft templates for OCW course materials to accommodate the diverse range of courses and teaching styles offered at MIT. A major goal is to develop preliminary production processes for converting faculty-generated source materials into OCW-compatible formats. In the OCW format, we've estimated the cost at about 100 million dollars for 2,000 courses. And we anticipate that it is about a six- to seven-year project. There is also the intent to refresh the courses over this period; the refresh cycle is about every three to four years. Our primary goals for the OCW site are to have 100 courses up by September of 2002, 250 released by March of 2003, and 500 by September of 2003. The original $11 million was generously provided by the Mellon Foundation, along with the Hewlett Foundation.

    SG: Is there a plan for engaging or identifying the needs of schools that are less well-endowed than research institutions, such as community colleges or small liberal arts colleges?

    PL: We certainly are interested in this, and we have an obligation to our Mellon colleagues to pay careful attention to small liberal arts institutions and the kinds of tools that will be useful and valuable to them. We have internal discussions underway with respect to how we can address the community college sector. In the early stages our scope is limited to getting the architectural specifications out and, by the nature of the requirement, engaging in the pragmatic research and development to accomplish this.

    SG: Any closing remarks?

    PL: I ask people to continue to look at the OCW and OKI Web sites, and to ask us questions and share ideas. In addition, we have articles in EDUCAUSE Review, "New Horizons: Building 'Open' Frameworks for Education" (Long, Kumar, Vijay, & Merriman, 2001), and Syllabus, "OpenCourseWare: Simple Idea, Profound Implications" (Long, 2002), that might also be helpful. Let us know about relevant presentations at conferences. What we are trying to do is build for the future, yet the natural and appropriate tendency is also to describe what we are doing today. If there are examples of tools and applications that people have built in their own institutions, having an understanding of those would be very helpful to us.

    [Editor's note: This article is modified from a TLT Group Webcast conducted October 2, 2001.]


    Long, P. D. (2002, January) OpenCourseWare: Simple idea, profound implications. Syllabus. Retrieved February 5, 2002, from sp?id=5913

    Long, P. D., Kumar, M. S. Vijay, & Merriman, J. (2001). New horizons: Building "open" frameworks for education. EDUCAUSE Review, 36(6), 80-81. Retrieved November 26, 2001, from []
  • Great!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mochan_s ( 536939 ) on Sunday March 03, 2002 @02:12PM (#3101715)
    This really great. In the last few years, a lot of course materials have been put online by professors (and not made you have to log in with you university account to access it, unlike some mean universities!!!)

    MIT already has a course materials on the WWW page where they have links to the web-pages created by professors for their classes. And, a lot of them aren't just a class syllabus and problems numbers from the book, but exams, solutions, HW solutions and sometimes even class notes. It's neat browsing through those.

    I guess this is just an extension of the idea so that all web-interface is the same for all classes. I just hope it doesn't end like other university web-site where 90% of the web-pages generated for classes are 90% the same and just contains the syllabus. Very frustrating browsing through 100 class links and they're all the same.

    • Re:Great!! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by neuroticia ( 557805 )
      I agree, it's great that schools are putting courses online and offering them for free to the public.

      However, let's not lose sight that Education is a business and not a right. The universities that do not put their materials online have their reasons to not put their materials online. They believe that they're giving away something that others are paying for, etc. (Along with the fact that it is rather time consuming to put things online most times.)

      That said, as someone who often takes exams and reads assignments online, I love the concept of Opencourseware and wish more Universities and schools would consider following the path. Perhaps if they were educated about the implications of opencourseware-- that it wouldn't take students away from the school as they would still want to attend for other reasons (diploma, social life, interaction with their peers and professors, etc.) then more schools would consider it. They could make use of volunteers to enter the information into a database, lobby for tax cuts for "donating" knowledge to the public, and so on.

      • Re:Great!! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Sunday March 03, 2002 @02:59PM (#3101873) Homepage Journal
        However, let's not lose sight that Education is a business and not a right.

        Actually, there's a pretty strong argument that education is a right, and that while it certainly can be run as a business, it shouldn't be. A friend of mine who is, ironically, the chairman of the Economics department at a rather conservative college, has a stock rant about how the business mindset is a cancer which has metastasized from business per se into other areas of American life where it doesn't belong, like politics, religion, the military, health care, and -- ta da! -- academia. I think his view is a bit on the gloomy side (hey, they don't call it the "dismal science" for nothing) but I tend to agree with his core idea: that business is business, and everything else isn't business, and that trying to run non-business institution like schools as businesses is bad for the core mission of the institution, which in this case is education.

        All that being said: yes, schools have to get money from somewhere, especially private schools (is MIT private?) It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable for them not to give away on the Web everything they provide to tuition-paying students. But a school whose primary goal is making money is not an educational institution worth anyone's time, no matter how prestigious its name.

        • schools have to get money from somewhere, especially private schools

          This is a good point. There have been discussions on this before, although from a different angle: patents.

          It's no coincidence that we in the /. community are here sharing opinion and working with open source, and are also interested in education. We share a thirst for knowledge and philosophy. But in this day where software is such big money, education costs are spiralling, funding is staying constant or dropping, it makes sense to the managers of these institutions to get back something from industry by patenting and licensing technologies they develop. Like the PARC and IBM labs have been doing for a while. Yes, it feels like college to work there, but now the commercial aspect is pervasive.

          One major advantage of "free" education (although this MIT initiative isn't free education, simply part of the means to a free education...) is that there are no pressures to raise money during the learning process, although there may be more pressure at MIT as a result of this. The university pressure still does not affect the quality of the public materials, or the open philosophy behind the publishing of those materials.

        • Re:Great!! (Score:2, Insightful)

          by neuroticia ( 557805 )
          A.) Education is only a right from the ages of 5 to 18. (or longer if you're held back)

          B.) This is America. America is still a capitalist country (Not that I'm about to ask it to change) In order for anything to survive in a capitalist country, it has to be run as a business, or it has to have people with very strong ideals backing it. (ie: the open source movement)

          C.) The primary goal of schools is never "To make money"- if it were, the people involved would be in a different business. This, however, does not stop the people involved from trying to make money. (See B.)

          I empathize with the idealistic views of education, and wish that they were the solid truth, however I don't believe they are. People do have the right to "Self education", but all too often knowledge is sold rather than made free, given to the person with the dollar in his hand rather than the person who wants to absorb it. The thing I like about opencourseware is that it puts education back into the field of being a "right". It puts the reins in the hands of those who are able to pursue knowledge on their own and who do not like the structure of a school environment, or who are unable to attend the schools they wish to for whatever reason.

          Just making the information available online doesn't guarantee people will take advantage of it. Hey- look at all the people who PAY to go and then flunk out because they're too busy drinking beer and trying to get laid. For those few that are self-motivated and able to learn on their own, knowledge *should* be free.

          • A.) Education is only a right from the ages of 5 to 18. (or longer if you're held back)

            In America, that's true. In many other countries, it's not.

            B.) This is America. America is still a capitalist country (Not that I'm about to ask it to change) In order for anything to survive in a capitalist country, it has to be run as a business, or it has to have people with very strong ideals backing it. (ie: the open source movement)

            Or it has to be accepted as a public good, which the people of the country are willing to pay for in other ways (taxes, charitable donations, whatever) than direct pay-for-service. Religion, the military, and some kinds of transportation (e.g. highways) are examples of necessary public goods which we as a society have decided are too important to leave entirely to market forces -- and so is education up to the age of 18, and to some degree afterward (most people with college degrees, after all, got those degrees from schools that are at least partly state-supported.) This is an argument about degree rather than kind. The US has never been entirely a capitalist country, libertarian fantasies aside.

            C.) The primary goal of schools is never "To make money"- if it were, the people involved would be in a different business. This, however, does not stop the people involved from trying to make money. (See B.)

            Actually, there seem to be a lot of people these days who are in the "education business" primarily to make money. Most of them are concentrating on K-12 education right now (there exist a number of charter school corporations run by slick MBA's who are quite obviously in it for the $$$) but their mindset is starting to filter upward into the colleges and universities.

            Look, I'm not complaining about OpenCourseware at all; I think it's a great idea, and I agree with you that motivation is the most important route to gaining knowledge. I'm just saying that unless We The People keep our eyes open to the changes in the way schools are run, we'll find that knowledge is becoming more expensive, not less, with OC and suchlike being the exception rather than the rule.

          • Re:Great!! (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Your view is so typically American, it isn't even funny... Try doing some casual research on the web to see how much students are paying in the rest of the industrialized, "capitalist" world for their top-notch post-secondary educations. There's nothing idealistic about it when in the rest of the developed world the right to a *full* education is a reality. USA != The World
      • The idea of education as a business can result in an artificial view of what needs to be learned, or indeed what research needs to be carried out. I work in education, both at the consumer/training level, and at the academic university level. The contrast in management styles is amazing - the priorities are completely dipolar. On one side, you have "the almighty buck", we teach whatever you'll pay us to stand there and waffle about, on the other you have "the almighty word", we teach whatever we as bastions of the community agree you need to know in order to develop your foundation skills in your chosen discipline.

        The issue is one of management, but it's also one of expectation. The world is getting more global, more capitalist, more liberal. One of the libertarian ideas is "if you don't like it, get a different one". In order for educational institutions to survive in a liberal market, they need to be attractive to the best candidates, in order to turn out as many overacheivers as possible, in order to attract the best candidates, etc. Market forces exist even at the idealogical pillars of society.

        And what's the best way to facilitate such attraction? You got it, funding. And how do you improve funding? Either attract private funding (graduates, important donors who like/need the press), or hire a business-savvy funding manager. And what's the best way for a business-savvy funding manager to raise funds? Sell product.

        The only product (other than education) that a university can sell is technology. Innovation. Knowledge-creation. And the reason it is attractive to sell it is because of our bizarre legal idea that anything I thought of patenting can be patented, which means anyone with an idea (even if fairly common) can patent it. Now, if the whole world of industry is already doing it, and making silly money in a high-profile way, then OF COURSE a fund-raising manager is going to see it as an early opportunity! It's selling knowledge creation! It's freely available on campus! It won't detract slightly from the research of the PhD students, and will likely attract more as students see the $$$.

        Of course this doesn't even broach the sticky subject of market forces at the student level, i.e. do I as a student choose a project with industrial value, something patentable? or do I choose something worthwhile to society, and knowledge in general? Alas, that's a question for another day...

    • Google is helpful (Score:4, Informative)

      by NerdSlayer ( 300907 ) on Sunday March 03, 2002 @03:14PM (#3101926) Homepage
      Ever want to take the infamous 15-412 Operating Systems class at CMU? Type 15-412 into google and you can get the homepage:

      full of lectures, notes, homework, exams and projects.

      How many of you have ever written your own shell from scratch? Maybe now's your chance. Or better yet, read up the kernel project: ts /proj3/

    • Indeed, it is good news. Don't forget that it's being done in primary and secondary education, too [].
      - Derwen

  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <> on Sunday March 03, 2002 @02:16PM (#3101732) Homepage Journal
    So in short it's Project Athena [] Rev. 2.

    Last time it was Unix-based, developed X Windows for an interface, and was offered out for license by other institutions.

    This time it's some interpretation of the idea "Open" (MIT-style which is usually pretty good) and now with infrastructure widely available they're concentrating just on syllabi & courseware.

    Nice how they've delineated what MIT-as-an-educational-experience-offers and how that's different from using their materials; that giving the latter away doesn't devalue the former.

    • "giving away the latter doesn't devalue the former"-- So true. Course materials are a small part of the experience of going to a good school. If anything, experiencing the course materials would only increase my desire to go to the school and interact with the professors teaching the courses. (This is assuming that the course material is appealing. If it's not, then it would weed out the people who were disinterested and likely to be poor performers in the first place.)

      It's like being allowed to use the world's fastest computer. You might be recieving most of the benefits of owning it-- but you still want to own it. You still want to be able to overclock it or modify the case... Or even set up the OS the way you like it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I picked up this part of the relative article: Colleges and universities, in his view, are becoming more and more like vendors to students, who perceive themselves as customers of college education services Quite frankly, that doesn't sound bad to me. Let me try to give you a reason: Say that your parents (or even you) worked to death in order to give you what was necessary in order to attend the offered courses. So why should the same time any other creep that his parents (or him) just "wanked" should be able to enjoy the same cources? And you know something, if me or my parents pay for my education, I appreciate that and I respect it too. And if the decisions you took in your life (or others took for you) really mean nothing, then ,please, don't let that be a problem for me, ok? And as long as we use to buy products a bit, nowadays, let that be a product too. Knowledge should be perceived as a product, offered to those intended to pay for it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 03, 2002 @02:59PM (#3101875)
      Knowledge alone isn't a terribly useful commodity- it takes hard work and a certain degree of talent to turn knowledge into a set of useful skills and the ability to think critically.

      The "knowledge" that MIT is making publicly available has always been available to those taking the time to acquire it- all MIT is now doing it showing how certain professors package this information up to present to their students.

      When you go to a prestigious university, you are not paying for the trade secrets of how the world operates- you are paying for the opportunity to interact with and learn from professors who are at the cutting edge of their fields- the feedback and encouragement that these people can provide to a motivated student simply cannot be bound up in a book or presented on the web.

      By now I have spent an unusually long period stuggling to complete an undergraduate degree at MIT. Do I still feel that the experince is worth it now that they will be giving away all this information that I have struggled so hard to acquire? Absolutely. All my neatly bound course notes wouldn't be worth anything had I not gone through the process of actually learning the material. For me, that process could only have occurred in an academic environment.
  • by jsmyth ( 517568 ) <<jersmyth> <at> <>> on Sunday March 03, 2002 @02:31PM (#3101778) Homepage

    I teach a final year Software Systems development course for one of the largest universities in the world, and the majority of the courseware we use is available online. The university is The Open University [], the course is M301: Software Systems and their Development [].

    The course includes a number of aspects of development, including ethics (links from the main student website to other ethical institutions), project management, java, UML, and concurrency. Most of the materials are on that site, except of course for the two set books - a java book and a concurrency book.

    The open philosophy of the Open University predates that of MIT, although has a lot in common with academia in general - that of a meritocracy where knowledge is shared, and the importance is placed on what you do with it and how you do it, rather than where you come from or what you look like.

    I find the MIT angle to be very interesting, because they say they are not giving the "experience" or "education" away. This is true, and probably the only thing the OU lacks is regular face to face tuition. Having said that, I gave a tutorial just yesterday, and met my students for the first time this year, and we are in regular communication via email and webchat, so we are not losing that much!

    I am very interested in seeing how MIT perform in terms of materials - because we in the OU don't have a large face-to-face component, the materials have to read very well, and I feel they do (check it out).

    • I like MIT's attitude, but considering how little they've accomplished, they sure get a disproportionate amount of attention. Basically all they have right now is a bunch of syllabi on the web. That's not exactly a unique accomplishment. From my experience as a grad student in the ivies, it seems to me that they do a lot less than the state schools, but get a lot more money and prestige (at least on a per-student basis).

      BTW, there are already quite a few free-as-in-beer-or-speech textbooks in the world (see my sig).

      One thing that does sound very positive about this is that they're talking about developing an open-source, flexible alternative to straightjacket systems like WebCT. Now that would be both unique and useful.

  • Open Courseware Link (Score:3, Informative)

    by DeadBugs ( 546475 ) on Sunday March 03, 2002 @03:56PM (#3102074) Homepage
    Here is a direct link to The MIT Open Courseware Program []
  • Oh crap... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Free? Arrgh! I paid $100K for those class notes!

    I better sell mine on Ebay quick before anyone else sees this...

  • Are you sure it is "Vijay kumar", not "Vinay Kumar"? There is someone by the latter name who posts regularly to a usenet group I read, or is Kumar a pretty common name?
  • A recent PhD graduate trying to figure out
    whether or not to remain in academia runs the
    following numbers:

    Teaching: roughly 25 weeks of work at 10 hours
    per week for $50K = almost $200/hr.

    Management Consulting: roughly 50 weeks of work
    at 50 hours per week for $120K = almost $50/hr.

    (Of course some of the money for the "postdoc"
    teaching job is for research, but I don't include
    that because many PhDs enjoy their research and
    would pursue it as a hobby regardless of its
    utility to society without getting paid
    a dime if they were independently wealthy.)

    My question is whether or not others believe this
    OpenCourse initiative (at MIT and elsewhere) will
    ultimately spoil the party for academics.

    (Clearly for many the concern is already there ...
    OpenCourseWare takes great pains in their
    literature to assure other MIT faculty that
    the course websites will do nothing to steal away
    the magic of an MIT education that can only be
    found on the MIT campus proper.)

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"