GU OpenCourseWare just lifting off

October 15, 2009

Over the summer, Georgetown made online materials for a handful of courses free to the public as part of the OpenCourseWare movement that grants the public access to syllabi, lectures, notes, and assignments from classes.

Georgetown’s foray into the field of OCW is still in its fledgling stages. Currently the University’s website only consists of information from seven courses.

Then again, the site was created just this summer by student Kevin Donovan (COL ‘11).

“We were very excited to give him the space and support he needed and let him lead the way,” said Professor Randy Bass, Executive Director of Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. “We’ve got the lemonade stand set up, so to speak. That’s all it is right now, but it’s a great beginning.”

OCW began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001. Since then, MIT has expanded its OCW offerings to virtually all of MIT’s courses, according to Cecilia d’Oliveira, Executive Director of OCW at MIT.
While Georgetown is a long way from offering all of its courses on OCW, the University is seeking to expand the program in the future.

The next step for Georgetown is to find a way to increase its funding for OCW so that the site can foster greater professor participation and offer more features.

“Obviously Georgetown is a little late,” Bass said. “It’s not like we’re going to get a lot of funding just to ramp up to where ten other places are.”

Instead, Bass said, he is looking for some way to make Georgetown’s OCW distinctive when the time comes to approach foundations for grant opportunities.  This might include a focus on how the course is taught, or a link to experiences outside the classroom.

Grant opportunities will likely play a large role in Georgetown’s development of OCW. According to d’Oliveira, at MIT, grants from foundations were the largest source of support for OCW, giving $25 million, compared to the $10 million MIT itself contributed and $6 million from a software company.

As Bass notes, the University resources currently allotted to OCW include one graduate student, who works on OCW part-time.

With comparatively little money and energy devoted to OCW, Georgetown cannot offer professors a stipend to put their courses on OCW, as MIT did to rapidly expand the quantity of its OCW courses.

Although Georgetown is not currently able to offer monetary compensation for putting a course on OCW, it has made the process very easy. Over the summer, Donovan was proactive about recruiting professors and setting up their OCW pages.

“He made things happen,” said Visiting Professor Earl Skelton, whose General Physics class is posted on the site. “I simply gave him copies of my syllabi, he did it, and he sent it to me to check over.”

For such a small effort, the potential uses for OCW are enormous. Besides students who use OCW to supplement the courses they take, materials can also be helpful to professors who are developing classes in other countries, or unemployed or retired people who want to train themselves in a new subject, according to Donovan.

“It is truly a global movement whose possibilities will continue to expand for decades,” Donovan said.

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