Paywall/Open Debate Applied To University Education As Well

from the the-same-debate-we've-seen-before dept

DV Henkel-Wallace writes
"The New York Times has a good article about Open Courseware (how universities are putting their material online for anyone to use as they see fit). Unusually, the article has an accurate and pithy summary of how the movement started and evolved. It is still a little incredulous that such a thing can really exist ("On a philosophical level, the idea of making money from something available free might seem questionable."). But it is clear: a little ecosystem is building around this educational material.

What's most interesting, is how the same arguments that have already arisen around the "big data" areas like music, film and news appear in this smaller area as well. When MIT launched OCW, they directly addressed the CwF+RtB issues by pointing out that people attend schools for additional reasons than just the syllabus. But some people still don't get it: a professor from the Tuck School of Business still feels that putting the syllabus out there will let the magic out, claiming that it's "obvious" that an "exclusive experience" is appropriate.

The best quote: "It's pretty hard to imagine how an elite institution like us or like Harvard or Stanford or any of the other top schools would stay in business if they didn't have some aspect of the program that was still relatively complicated and difficult to get to," Mr. Argenti said. And thus they lock some of their content behind a pay wall.

Perhaps they should do a case study of the newspapers and how the pay walls have worked out for them."
DV's summary above is great, but I wanted to highlight one more specific point from the article, which is a quote from James D. Yager, a dean at Johns Hopkins University, who basically presents the other side of the story from Professor Argenti, by actually articulating the difference between the content (infinite) and all of the scarcities that the content makes more valuable:
"We don't offer the course for free, we offer the content for free," Mr. Yager said by telephone in February. "Students take courses because they want interaction with faculty, they want interaction with one another. Those things are not available on O.C.W."
Exactly. That's the point, and it's too bad that a professor at Dartmouth (which is generally a pretty good business school) would so confuse the basic economics of information, and not realize that even if all of the course info is free, there are always aspects that are scarce.

Separately, James Schirmer points us to a related article concerning how some liberal arts schools are using Open Courseware to improve their own programs. It's sort of taking a look at the other side of this overall debate, noting how liberal arts schools can improve their curriculum by having professors use OCW as a resource. Now, the OCW critics will claim that this takes away from the big schools that put content into OCW, but again, that's misunderstanding the market, and assuming a zero-sum game, rather than an ability to expand the overall pie, recognizing that better education programs across the board are a good thing that open up many more opportunities than they take away.
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Filed Under: open courseware, paywall, universities
Companies: dartmouth, mit, stanford university

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 8:34am

    Re: Re: Spend time on useful stuff

    "I actually did that once. I wrote a text book with all the "insider information" so that the students could read it and the lessons would consist of questions and application of the material to real life situations."

    This is probably one criticism I have on textbooks. I read the textbook and why should it be assumed that I am less competent than the teacher and therefor need information censored so that when the teacher says it I am hearing it for the first time (not to mention some teachers may leave information out leading to a discontinuity in my knowledge and therefore a misunderstanding of the material). This shows a poor understanding of how the brain works, one way we learn is through repetition and hearing/reading the same thing differently under different circumstances. The first time we see something we may process certain preliminary information (usually things like syntax and maybe some notation), but to process it all at once maybe overwhelming. The second time we may process the parts we didn't process the first time (notation, semantics). But when pieces of information are intentionally removed from the book now the teacher's lecture becomes the first time. and I don't want to tape record a lecture and have to navigate through it either (not to mention not all teachers allow recording of their lectures), not to mention sound often gets distorted even and tape recording a lecture doesn't present the visuals that the teacher and book presents as well (ie: pictures and drawings) to bring more context to the issue.

    This is why I prefer those Dummy books even (as much criticism as they get) and NON text books for learning new material for the first time (then it's a good idea to go on to more advanced books after you get the basics). If I want to buy a book I'll often skim through it at the book store or wherever first and I'll determine if it has anything of value, new information that I don't already know taught in a meaningful manner meant to actually educate me.

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