Hurdle #1 – Open Ed at the Graduate Level

25 Sep

When I first had this idea of an Open PhD, I really thought the difficult part would start when I started cracking the books (or the pixels, as it may be).  Instead, I have encountered Hurdle #1 at the very start – though I suppose in any good race, that’s exactly where you expect the first hurdle to be, right?

Over the last few days, in between prepping for a course I teach that started on Sept 24th, I cross-referenced my comparison schools and comparison degrees, trying to sort out exactly what kind of coursework I really needed, from what kind of course work some of the schools added in to justify their online existence.  I then cross referenced these titles against various local universities’ face-to-face PhD offerings just to make sure I was in the ball park.

Once I created my proposed course program, I ran it by my virtual advisor looking for holes.  We allowed for my background in education and distance learning to be “transferred in” (my Masters is in curriculum and instruction with a technology integration emphasis), so we focused forward from there.  We came up with this list for my Open PhD program. Obviously, I couldn’t use any particular university’s course title, so I left it more descriptive to make sure I could find the right subject matter.  Creating the ideal program on paper was the easy part.

Finding graduate level open courseware to fit my needs has not been so easy and I wonder why that is. Could it be as Gideon Burton says in his blog post:

The traditional scholar, like the scholarship he or she produces, isn’t open–open-minded, hopefully, but not “open” in a public way. No, a typical scholar is very exclusive, available only to students in specific academic programs or through toll-access scholarly publications that are essentially unavailable to all but the most privileged. In the digital age, the traditional barriers to accessing scholars or scholarship are unnecessary, but persist for institutional reasons. To put that another way, institutions of higher education are invested in keeping their scholars and those scholars’ intellectual products limited and cloistered.

Is that the school protecting the intellectual property of it’s scholars, or the intellectual property and its associated dollars? In other words, does it come down to just plain economics for the institution?  With hundreds, if not thousands, of incoming freshman required to take Bio 101, for instance, is XYZ University really sacrificing anything if they post a three year old video version of one instructor’s lectures and some handouts online?  However, as the enrollment numbers for courses get smaller when the course number nears the graduate level, the economic impact of making that coursework freely available may cause the school to think twice.  I am curious what the research shows. I don’t know yet, but, anecdotally, I do know there are proportionally many less graduate courses available as Open Courseware than undergraduate ones.

Your thoughts as to why?


Posted by on September 25, 2009 in The Plan


Tags: , , , ,

7 responses to “Hurdle #1 – Open Ed at the Graduate Level

  1. Stian Haklev

    December 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I think it makes perfect sense that OCW (which is really just one format of OER – there are many other models) is much more easily available for lower division courses. If I think about my own trajectory, it started out with courses in lecture theatres, with profs with powerpoint giving more or less carefully prepared lectures – really performances. They might take one or two questions from the audience, but basically it’s a one-man show.

    This is pretty easy to film, and since only the instructor is “involved”, you wouldn’t need permission from the students etc. It’s also in a format where viewing it online is very close to the experience you would get sitting in the audience (most people don’t raise their hands anyway).

    However, as we move up to fourth year courses and graduate school, things change. This term, I took two courses. Both had between 10 and 15 students, and a long reading list of articles and chapters from published books (no textbook). We spent the entire class discussing, sitting around a table. Each week, different students would prepare an article to share with the others, the teacher would introduce questions, we would discuss them in groups, etc.

    I don’t think watching a video recording of this would be very interesting to you. In addition, because it involved the students to such a high degree, they would probably be quite uncomfortable with being filmed – it would ruin a lot of the intimacy and security of the class to ask stupid questions etc.

    However, the syllabus should of course be published (and in fact is on many university webpages, although not easily found, and not listed as Open CourseWare per se.). For example, you can find professor Ruth Hayhoe’s course on comparative higher education here, with a very extensive bibliography:

    To recreate these kind of classes, you should probably try to find others and do a reading circle. (I hate blowing my own horn, but P2PU would be an ideal place to do that! I can think of a lot of people, including me, who would love to join such a course).

    It’s also worth considering that in Commonwealth countries (not including Canada), it’s very common for a PhD to not include any coursework at all – you come in with a specific research plan, and you spend three-four years conducting the research and writing it up.

  2. joseph thibault

    September 29, 2009 at 11:19 am

    My pleasure, I think this is a really exciting endeavor and I think your audience (myself included) is fortunate that you’re allowing us to give our suggestions. Just don’t let us steer you the wrong way!

  3. joseph thibault

    September 28, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Despite there being 1000s of resources for OCW, I’m not really surprised that X course isn’t available. I bet you though, that if you had the syllabus you’d be able to piece a course replica together pretty easily. Perhaps that would be easier? To solicit syllabi from professors (even the most renowned) of the courses you really wish you could take.

    I think that your whole idea is to take a fresh perspective on a process that’s changed very little over time, so not having courses that you can simply plug and play seems right on target (after all it’ll give you more freedom as you rough up the framework).

    • Lisa

      September 29, 2009 at 8:09 am


      Great idea for working around some of the missing pieces. Some OCW is available more as modules as well, so getting a syllabus and then finding elements that will work together from a variety of OCW sources will, indeed, achieve the same goals. It is just very interesting to me how much lower division coursework is available (100-200 level) and how very little upper division and graduate level is available by comparison.

      Thanks for the suggestion!


      • Parag Shah

        September 29, 2009 at 1:16 pm


        Are you considering text content also, or are you first trying to find video/audio content?

      • Lisa

        September 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm

        I am looking at all sources – though I think audio/visual with supplementary text will be the most helpful for providing some sense of interactivity.

  4. Parag Shah

    September 26, 2009 at 1:00 am

    Well MIT and many other schools have posted several of their courses as open courseware.

    I am not sure if schools would have an agenda to guard certain courses while making others available as OCW.

    At the same time it does seem surprising that you were not able to find courses from your list. Perhaps the content is distributed across courses with a different name?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: