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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Instructional Effectiveness of OCW

I've received several communications from persons asking about the pedagogical approaches that are used in OCW projects, so here's my response:

There are benefits of the OpenCourseWare projects. Some were anticipated from the beginning at MIT, some are just now being discovered. The three main recipients of these benefits are (1) the institutions (university and commercial organizations mostly), (2) the end users, and (3) those who contribute their materials to OCW (individual instructors mostly).

My dissertation is a study on the benefits that come to the third group. The question being: what do instructors get from participating? Pedagogical approaches and instructional effectiveness involve the second group. The question being: what do learners who use OCW material get out of it and how well does the material work?

This second question makes an assumption that is incorrect, that OCW material is inherently instructional. This is not the case. Yes, the material comes from educational courses and thereby is often referred to as "educational material" or "course content" but it is just digital material. To refer to OCW content as "courses" is actually incorrect.....as a "course" implies that there is some form of instruction going on.

OCW began with no intention of being instructional. The goal was to just put course content online and make it available to the world. What the world did with it was up to them. Many have tried to come up with ways to make the content instructional....and that's a great quest, but no one knows how to do it yet...we are still investigating. Just remember, that, as OCW is now, it is not instructional...it's just content. So, no, MIT and every other OCW did not begin with any pedagogical approach in mind.

So the question of instructional effectiveness of OCW material is actually left to other projects that are making use of the content that OCW projects provide.