Evaluating Open CourseWare (OCW) as distance learning courses

Evaluating Open CourseWare (OCW) as distance learning courses

What is OCW?

Open CourseWare (OCW) is an interesting concept and trend that was started by MIT in 2002.  OCW sites do have its misconceptions in its usefulness in the education field.  OCW does not mean online courses (Johnstone and Poulin, 2002).  OCW is the offering of free materials that are used in classes; however, the classes are not typically made for online course delivery.  The assignments and material do not always feature interactivity.  The typical offerings consists of .pdf files, lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, assignments, experiments, and students’ work (Johnstone and Poulin, 2002).  Synchronous and asynchronous materials are plopped onto a website without much instruction.  OCW should be used as resources for ideas and not as “the resource” for instruction.

Free for who?

OCW are free for the end-user but not for the site offering the OCW.  OCW are not a popular model for education institutes because it does not generate large amounts of revenue.  “Even MIT OCW, the leader of the OCW movement, must raise approximately $4,000,000 each year to sustain operations (approximately $2,000,000 in donations and $2,000,000 in budgetary support from the university)” (Johansen, 2009, p. 10).  Such huge expenditures without a realistic cash infusion would force these sites to close down.  MIT does receive some funding from Amazon through the sales of books, but only time will tell if this strategy is enough to sustain such a program.

Grading an OCW

Bates proposed 12 rules for the use of technology in distance education (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright,  & Zvacek, 2009) that we will be using to an extent for grading an OCW, which are:

  1. Good teaching matters.  Quality design of learning activities is important for all delivery methods.
  2. Each medium has its own aesthetic.  Therefore professional design is important.
  3. Education technologies are flexible.  They have their own unique characteristics but successful teaching can be achieved with any technology.
  4. There is no “super-technology.” Each has its strengths and weaknesses; therefore they need to be combined (an integrated mix).
  5. Make all four media available to teacher and learners. Print, audio, television, and computers should all be available.
  6. Balance variety with economy. Using many technologies makes design more complex and expensive; therefore, limit the range of technologies in a given circumstance.
  7. Interaction is essential.
  8. Student numbers are critical. The choice of a medium will depend greatly on the number of learners reached over the life of a course.
  9. New technologies are not necessarily better than old ones.
  10. Teachers need training to use technology effectively.
  11. Teamwork is essential. No one person has all the skills to develop and deliver a distance learning course; therefore, subject-matter experts, instructional designers, and media specialists are essential on every team.
  12. Technology is not the issue. How and what we want the learners to learn is the issue and technology is a tool. (p. 147).

Grading an OCW by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a distance learning course.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) offers an OCW free for the end-user.  The OCW offers no technical help, does not fulfill requests to contact their faculty members, does not offer a degree or certificate at the completion of their material, and it does not require an account registration.  Looking at its Adolescent Health and Development topic found at http://ocw.jhsph.edu/courses/AdolescentHealthDevelopment/, we are presented with a course description, syllabus, schedule, lecture materials, reading resources, other resources, and a survey.  All the materials presented in the lectures are PowerPoint slides that are converted into .pdf documents.  The materials do follow a sequential order, but the lack of interaction is notable since all the material come in the form .pdf documents.  Looking at the 12 rules mentioned earlier, we see that the site fails on rule one, five, seven, eight, and ten through twelve.  This OCW failed on 7 out of 12 rules, noting that some rules did not apply to the situation but was credited to favor the OCW. “The historian may ponder how late twentieth-century teachers could possibly have taken the most informative and far-reaching communication media ever invented and discredited them by such blunt, non-interactive styles of usage” (Baggaley, p. 43).

Final verdict!

The shortcomings of the JHSPH as a distance learning course are not the fault of the OCW designers.  Rather, it is the treatment of OCW as distance learning courses, which they are not.  In fact, the help file for JHSPH mentions that the OCW is not a distance-learning initiative.  JHSPH is a great OCW for obtaining informational resources and it should not be mistaken as a distance learning course.


Baggaley, J. (2008). Where did distance education go wrong?. Distance Education 29(1), pp. 39-51.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.

Johansen, J. (2009). The impact of opencourseware on paid enrollment in distance learning courses. Brigham Young University.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.

Johnstone, S. M., & Poulin, R. (2002). What is open courseware and why does it matter?. Change, 34(4), 48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.

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


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