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Open Course Ware for Credit

Many colleges offer online courses for credit. Open course ware could provide the same benefit to students, on a much larger scale and depth

Photo of Deepak Patel

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Most colleges already have online or hybrid courses as part of their offerings in course selection. Open course ware makes educational materials available to anyone with an internet connection, and often times the quality is on par with a college level course. By making these open courses available for credit, students who cannot or are unable to participate in traditional education can gain exposure.

College students spend most of their time online. It can be argued that most classes are hybrid classes, with online components being a major part of the curriculum. But online classes differ from open course ware in that open course ware is for independent learning. 

Open course ware allows students to gain comparable education to traditional classrooms, on their own schedule. And it's free. These are the two highlights of how open course ware could be utilized to foster affordability and access to students, as well as encouraging graduation. 

The Cost: 

Students can learn about the subject on their own time, which is a valuable resource for lower-income families, who must split their time between jobs and sustaining their families and lives. Being free for students is one half of the cost equation. Open course ware is also very low cost for institutions. Uploading and maintaining the documents, fixed costs, make up the majority of the cost. Contrast this to traditional education, which requires physical facilities and administration, both expenditures which have been increased in volume since the past, but unable to keep up with the greater demand for higher education. Open course ware allows scalability.

The Accessibility: 

Many students first attend community college to earn credit for their basic classes, and then transfer to a bigger institution for the more specialized classes.

Why is this? It's cheaper, and easier. But then why move to another institution? Because for these specialized classes, the professor relationship and collaboration with peers becomes the focus for education, contrasting to basic classes, which are largely homogeneous across institutions.  These higher division classes are the core of higher institutions, and differentiates them from others. The focus of these higher institutions should be on these classes, not exploratory or decisive as lower division classes are meant to be.

The Result: 

Open course ware credit could be administered in a similar manner as Advanced Placement testing by the College Board. Students could educate themselves on the course and then register for an exam that would determine their eligibility for credit. Direct access to lectures and other materials also gives another value to both the student and institution: greater motivation. The students gain a better understanding of higher education, and can explore areas of interest, without spending money for the classes, and the risk of later determining that the subject is uninteresting or too difficult, a waste of time and money on one hand, and a Grade Point Average wound on the other. 

If open course ware becomes a more available route to credits, like Advanced Placement testing or community college, it would give access for lower-income, time sensitive individuals to an affordable education that would even enlighten or uncover their specialization interests, resulting in more dedicated students who have a focused plan to graduate.  

The Feasibility: 

The idea of open course ware as an alternative, as opposed to traditional institutions, which are more expensive and rigid, advanced placement tests in high school, or community college, has been explored by some key players who could help create momentum to give open course ware for credit greater credibility and availability. 

Currently, a few institutions are prototyping this method of education, including MIT. 

Founded by Harvard University and MIT, is another ongoing collaborative open course ware for credit institution.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We could explore how penetrative current online or hybrid courses are compared to traditional learning, especially compared to new and prospective students. As well as the utilization of open course ware as supplement for traditional courses, and evaluation by professors or teachers of the quality of open course ware opposed to their own methods of traditional education.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Collaboration between institutions could be key, as demonstrated with and the routine rejection of credits from community college or placement tests by higher institutions. How can we create this quality collaboration between often times competing institutions?

This idea emerged from

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You have a great idea! Can you tell me more about the tradeoffs students would receive when resulting to this option? Because I know taking online courses does have its advantages and disadvantages.

Photo of Deepak Patel

This is a important part about this idea, thanks for bringing it up! So one weakness for MOOC would be the lack of socialization and collaboration between students that is very much a large part of college life on campus. I think this is one of the most important parts that if MOOC do become a part of student life, will need to be addressed! 


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