Over the last few years, the availability of open education has changed dramatically. MIT’s *Opencourseware (OCW) was once the only institution providing free educational materials, however, users can now access thousands of courses from hundreds of organizations in many different languages. The Opencourseware Consortium alone has more than 250 member institutions dedicated to open education and continues to make their course materials available for free. I selected an **OCW Scholar course from MIT to evaluate so that I could better understand the purpose of the course, and discover how it compares to defined requirements for distance learning.
I chose the Introduction to Computer Science and Programming course taught by Professor John Guttag (2012). The course description suggests that the course is aimed at students with no computer programming experience, and should provide students with an understanding of the function computation can play in solving problems. The course uses Python programming language and states that students should feel confident, after completing the course, to write small programs in this language (Guttag, 2012).
As I reviewed the course, I was particularly impressed with the breadth of information and explanation about the class itself, the objective, and the thoughtful flow of the course. The syllabus was complete with links to lesson requirements, optional textbooks, and technical requirements for taking the course. The course included a technology overview of the software required for the course and a full page of additional resources. This information, especially the syllabus, provides the student with a scope, a course completion sequence, and clarification on what is required for successfully class completion. By most standards, all of these elements are consistent with the requirements for any distance learning program (Simonson et al., 2012).
The course is divided up into three manageable units, each containing complete lectures by Professor Guttag (2012), resources such as handouts or slides, homework problems, and narrative videos to aide in problem solving techniques. Piskurich (n.d.) agrees that distance learning activities need to be related to the course objectives, and I found that each unit activity allows students to improve upon their computing skills with Python. Additionally, each unit includes self-assessment tools, including quizzes with solutions to allow learners to evaluate themselves on their progress. The course demonstrates thoughtful and considerate planning with regards to design, content inclusion, and organization. It includes appropriate activities and assessment tools to help the learner develop their knowledge of computer programming through this course. These elements are also vital in comparing this course with distance learning standards (Simonson et al., 2012).
The only limitation that I could find was the lack of communication options between the student and instructor or institution. Distance learning should include asynchronous and synchronous components (Piskurich, n.d.; Simonson et al., 2012). This course falls in line with a distance self study course because it does not utilize any components, such as chat, email or discussion wiki’s that allow for feedback from the instructor. I think that MIT understood this to be a limiting factor because they sponsor a secondary component to OCW Scholar called OpenStudy. Users of OCW scholar courses can interact with each other, work together on assignments, and collaborate on questions. Study groups are also available. While this does not meet the criteria of interaction between student and instructor, it does add an element of collaboration that increases student motivation and the overall value of the course.
OCW has a valuable role in distance education, and is particularly significant for those learners that do not have learning opportunities readily available to them. Additionally, teachers around the world can use the information found in OCW resources to improve their teaching content, thus perpetuating the spirit of open sharing.
Guttag, John. 6.00SC Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, Spring 2011. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), http://ocw.mit.edu/ (Accessed 30 May, 2012). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA
Piskurich, G., & Chauser, J. (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses. (Video Program). Laureate Education, Inc.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: foundations of distance education (5th Ed.). Boston , MA: Pearson.
*Opencourseware (OCW) is a web based publication of MIT courses. It is not a degree bearing or credit granting initiative, but serves as a content library that anyone can access for free.
** OpenCourseWare (OCW) Scholar courses are substantially more complete than typical OCW courses and include custom-created content and materials repurposed from previously published courses. The materials are arranged in logical sequences and often include enhanced multimedia.