First, a disclaimer. I am a neophyte in the opencourseware/open content world. But I've been following it for the past year, and am involved in Westminster's efforts to figure out how to play in that world. And if you follow this blog (all three of you :-)) then you will know it is central to some of my thinking about cost and quality in higher ed.
Having said that, it seems to me that over the past couple of months there have been some major changes in the higher ed open content landscape. First, Utah State University got rid of its opencourseware project, the second largest in the US. Second, MIT released a report on the costs of hosting its OCW project, with some ideas about how to sustain it in the future without the major institutional and grant funding that made it possible in headier economic times. Third, the Mellon Foundation consolidated one of its major grant programs that had funded a lot of open content work and its two grant officers left the foundation.
What do these three things imply?
1. They do not imply that open content or opencourseware are going out the window. There are still lots of efforts out there, and lots of successes to be noticed.
2. They do imply that individual institutions of higher education will struggle to provide open content infrastructure necessary for the "revolution" in learning that some people expect. (Check out this recent issue of the journal IRRODL for some of the revolution language.)
3. They suggest that the same economic downturn that makes open content attractive as an alternative to expensive higher education makes it difficult to provide that open content.
4. If (3) is correct, then future open content infrastructure will be more likely to be provided by for-profit companies (i.e. youtube.edu; ITunesU, etc.) or the federal government than by individual institutions of higher ed.
5. If individual institutions want to stay at the front, it seems that they ought to specialize. The future seems not to be MIT providing an entire university worth of courses online for free, but instead institutions leading in areas of their speciality. MIT in engineering, Utah State in agriculture, who (???) in liberal arts.
The Cost Trap, Concluding Thoughts
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