The Impact of Open Source

An Open Source is when an educational course is “open and freely available worldwide for non-commercial purposes such as research and education, providing an extraordinary resource, free of charge (TechTarget, 2011).”  In the relatively short time it has been available, it has revolutionized our society. For example, Wikipedia is one of the largest and most available sources of information on the internet (Opensource, 2011).  Contributors can post and comment on other’s postings.  Employers like Whole Foods have begun to use open source applications to show transparency in their wages, items to stock and staffing decisions (2011).  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) decided they were going to lead all educational institutions and make their courses and materials available to the public, free of charge. This year MIT OpenCourseWare, considered the pioneer of open source, celebrated its 10th anniversary of open sharing and educating nearly 100 million people worldwide (MIT, 2011).  I have decided to analyze the  MIT course, Ecology I:  The Earth System.   The url is:  http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/civil-and-environmental-engineering/1-018j-ecology-i-the-earth-system-fall-2009/

 

When reviewing this science course,  I wanted to analyze it through the eyes of an Instructional Designer/Instructor.  I first looked at signs of pre-planning and design. The course provides a class syllabus, lecture notes, additional reading lists and exams. The site seems to be aesthetically pleasing and structured in a very organized way. I found it easy to navigate through the site.  However, when I took a deeper look at the class, I felt that this class is indeed an online version of what happens in the traditional classroom. When reading over the course notes, it reads like it was written down from a classroom presentation.  In my research, I found little to no images or animations, mainly text. In our text, it states that “courses previously taught in traditional classrooms may need to be retooled.  The focus of the instruction shifts to visual presentations, engaged learners, and careful timing of presentations of information (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright &Zvacke, 2009, p. 127).” In my opinion, while there was a wealth of information available, there was nothing that tried to grab and retained learner’s attention.  The course website seemed to be a site where all course information is parked. 

When analyzing the site from an online instruction point-of-view, I find that it does meet some of the recommendations that are listed in our course text book.  The following is a list of Online Teaching Fundamentals that this site does follow:

1.  “Organize the Course and Make the Organization and Requirements Clear to Students (2009, p.248).”  The course is neatly and efficiently organized by class topics.  The requirements as well as the assignments are easily found on the left side of the page.  The purpose of the assignments and the intended audience of the assignments are just two of the ways that the requirements are made clear to the students.

2.  “Test Applications, Not Rote Memory (2009, p.250).”  The course outcomes are stated on the course syllabus.  I found that the applications are real-world situations that can assess the students overall understanding of the subject matter.

3.  “Integrate the Power of the Web into the Course (2009, p.250).” There are additional resources and readings that are suggested that can be found on the web.

4.  “Apply Adult Learning Principles with Nontraditional Students (2009, p.251).”  Because this is a non-credit course, the majorities of students taking the course are self-directed and most likely have specific reasons for taking the course.  Students can achieve their own learning goals and learn as much or as little as they need.

The following is a list of Online Teaching Fundamentals that this site did not follow. 
1.  “Avoid ‘Dumping’ a Face-to-Face course onto the Web (2009, p.248).  As discussed before, it seems that this is a shovelware site.

2.  “Keep Students Informed Constantly (2009, pg. 249).”  Because this is a non-credit and non-interactive course, there are no announcements, emails, or any other contact between the student and the institution. There is however, a student study group where students can voluntarily post questions and comments to others also taking the course.

Finally, I believe that the course designer did not implement course activities that maximize active student learning.  The group projects that I saw were intended for the traditional face-to-face student working with other classmates.  The projects looked interesting and fun. However, they could have been easily modified for the online OpenCourseWare student.   Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, (2009) state that group work “helps construct a supportive social environment.”  This aspect of distance education needs to be improved in order to maximize learning.

Overall, I believe the MIT Ecology I:  The Earth System course is  a valuable tool that can introduce students of all ages to the online environment.  I believe all students should be aware of open course websites that offer free courses.  It is a great way to continue one’s life-long learning.

References
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2011). MIT OpenCourseWare’s first 10 years: 100 million served. Retrieved October 8th, 2011 from http://ocw.mit.edu/about/next-decade/

Opensource.com. (2011). About opensource.com. Retrieved October 8, 2011 from http://opensource.com/about

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

TechTarget (2011). MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW). Retrieved October 8, 2011 from http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/0,,sid9_gci540010,00.html

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