Open Courses: About 10 Weeks Seems To Be It, Then?

Consternation on the twittertubes this morning about Wolverhampton’s i-CD: Intelligent Career Development, which seeks to offer “a completely new approach to higher education”:

Historically, people have either gone to university or, more recently, universities have tried to come to them. That is to say, they have opened themselves to part-time students in the evenings or projected learning materials via distance learning or tailored their programmes to employers’ needs. However, they have never previously attempted to do all these things in a single programme. Via i-CD, the University of Wolverhampton is for the first time providing low-cost, flexibly-delivered, workplace-based, market-driven, fully-accredited, higher education.

(Err… I think the OU does that actually, through work based learning, an increasing number of vendor qualifications from Cisco and Microsoft that also provide academic credit, sector based courses and qualifications, and so on… All part-time, at a distance, with support (and online community), and some of them in the workplace too.)

So for example, I think @dkernohan sees parts of his nightmare vision coming true?

What struck me is that the Wolverhampton offering is being built around 10 week courses, the same length as the OU short courses (which in the OU case result in 10 CAT points of academic credit, corresponding to a nominal 10 hours study a week).

Also coming in at 10 weeks is the currently running PLENK2010 Massive Online Open Course (hmm.. does that URL scale for other courses?), and close behind, at 12 weeks, the forthcoming openEd 2.0 course on “Business and management competencies in a Web 2.0 world”:

a FREE/OPEN course targeting business students and practitioners alike. The course consists of two strands: an academic and a professional practice based strand, though both strands can be taken together. Furthermore, the openEd 2.0 course is MODULAR, thus learners can also “pick” the individual modules they are interested at.

OpenEd course

Whilst I’m encouraged to see the rise of open courses (and there’s an increasing number of them: for example, P2PU are currently running a course on Open Journalism on the Open Web, I do think the OU is maybe missing a trick, and not leading the way in terms of innovating around open online courses…

…becuase the OU has being doing online education for years. Our first fully online course (T171, as authored by Martin Weller and John Naughton, amongst others) first presented in 1999 (I think), with thousands of students per presentation. The current Royal Photographic Society (RPS) recognised short course on Digital Photography regularly pulls in large numbers of students (in the OU, courses with less than 250 students are small…) and the new CompTIA approved Linux course is already a middle sized course… (Notice anything about those courses…? Recognition from outside academia too…)

So why isn’t the OU experimenting with running massive open online courses, with an option to “upsell” accreditation to students who want the formal academic credit? Maybe providing the support typically offered to students taking OU courses wouldn’t be cost-effective in an open course, although the wholly online short courses at least have already foregone personal tutor support. Expecting forum moderators to act as sales reps for accreditation is maybe not the sort of support we’d like to see being offered…?!

I’ve mentioned before that open educational resources might benefit from being created in public, possibly in an open course setting… SO maybe the time is now right to start trialing open courses (uncourses?;-), maybe informed by requests from (potential) students about the courses they’d like to see, creating the materials in near real-time (and drawing on other open resources, “educational” and otherwise) for the open presentation, then providing students who want to gain formal credit with some sort of assessment and accreditation?

How might this formal recognition be achieved?

– possibly via a semi-formal OU certificate that can be formally recognised through a credit transfer route?
– maybe using variant of the Career development and employability course container that lets students “use [their] workplace as a context for learning, and develop [their] ability to apply [their] learning to improve [their] practice at work”)?
– or how about the Make your experience count course container, which “gives you the opportunity to gain 30 credit points towards higher education qualifications by drawing on your past learning experiences”?

With a little bit of wit and imagination, I’m sure we could wither finesse one of our current “prior experience” courses to support the award of credit to open online courses, or come up with a new 10 point container: Open Education Course Credit

PS Hmmm, as an experiment, I wonder what would happen if someone who had taken an open online course tried to get it accepted “in partial fulfilment” of one of the accreditation of prior experience containers mentioned above? If you try it, let me know how you get on…;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

5 thoughts on “Open Courses: About 10 Weeks Seems To Be It, Then?”

  1. Thanks for the attribution :-)

    I should clarify that I’ve no problem with “academic-credit-on-demand”, short courses linked to employment, or (obviously) the use of OER in informal or formal learning.

    If Universality is critiquing anything, it’s how we imagine the role of the academic and the unmeasurable benefits of the institution. It’s really the start of a conversation rather than a proper nightmare.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how iCD and the other institutional and commercial variations on the model take off.

  2. Just thought I’d throw in a few quick comments:

    1) Traditional North American university courses on a semester system are 10-12 weeks long, except in the summer, where they sometimes cram things into 6 weeks instead. So I think the timespan is actually quite normal, or it is for me!

    2) The OU doesn’t seem to be expanding its short course offerings beyond the 1st year. The only 2nd- and 3rd-year courses we currently have are the ones in the Web Applications Development Certificate and those are, I believe, slated to be merged into some “regular” 30-point OU courses. On paper they sounded economically viable, but has that been true in practice even with just “moderators” instead of assigned individual associate lecturers.

    I think the idea is good and I’d love to see the OU pioneer it in the UK, but we’re going to need a sound economic argument.

    1. @eingang “I think the idea is good and I’d love to see the OU pioneer it in the UK, but we’re going to need a sound economic argument.”
      So what sound economic argument would have been applied to broadcasting OU course videos at 6am in the morning on the BBC, broadcasts that influenced millions of people…?

      OU/BBC broadcasts were OU as public service educator, raising aspiration and in part allowing folk in families with no tradition of going to university to discover what sorts of things could be studied. OU TV broadcast doesn’t do that any more. But online open courses could. Online open courses are one possible way of recapturing something of that broadcast educational engagement.

      Also, by running a course as a course, albeit informally, you still have the opportunity to “make an appointment with the viewer”. You create a time and a place to be. This doesn’t happen with e.g. serendipitously coming across an OU produced podcast or Youtube video…?

  3. @Tony: “So what sound economic argument would have been applied to broadcasting OU course videos at 6am in the morning on the BBC, broadcasts that influenced millions of people…?”

    I suspect the OU wasn’t quite as concerned then with economic viability and were a little less risk-adverse )-: Nevertheless, I suspect even then there were some good economic reasons. The time slot was probably either low-cost or free. If it was free, it meant the OU didn’t need to store or distribute videotapes to students. Even if it wasn’t free, it may still have been cheaper than producing, storing, and distributing videotapes.

    It also meant students didn’t need to have VCRs, although a VCR would be handy so you didn’t have to watch the broadcast at some weird hour. The broadcasts also acted as publicity for the OU, even for people not taking the courses. Everyone seems to know about these broadcasts and have created a stereotype of the typical show presenter. That’s probably what you’re referring to by the the broadcasts influencing millions of people.

    There might be an angle with the broadcast educational engagement, but how, in a sea of stuff that is the Internet, would people find out about it? How many television channels were there available to the average person when the OU first started its BBC broadcasts? I suspect exposure was a lot easier then. There are also concerns about where that audience is. The Internet is a worldwide audience. The BBC broadcasts were restricted to the UK, weren’t they? Who is the OU’s intended audience and how can we let them know about open courses?

    If current, non-open 2nd- and 3rd-year courses aren’t considered profitable, how will we convince them that making open versions will be? That’s the key to making a good case for it, I think. Unless we can demonstrate that the university will tangibly and financially benefit (and that might include reputation), I think we’d be hard-pressed to get it approved at the departmental level. I could be wrong or overly cynical. Maybe all it will take is someone willing to champion it and be stubborn.

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