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. icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 6:18am

    As far as I can tell, the professor from the Tuck School of Business thinks the sole advantage Harvard or Stanford offers to students is secrecy. I'm trying to figure out how secrecy constitutes value to students.

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