Course design

Open source, open content, now … open course design

Tree at the OU

Tree at the OUOn a lunchtime stroll along the riverside today, Gráinne Conole was bombarding me with her latest thoughts on Cloudworks, her JISC-funded project which enables you “to find other people’s learning and teaching ideas, designs and experiences as well as sharing your own”. She is planning to extend the system to allow course teams to carry out the various processes around designing courses, including sharing and discussing the content as it’s being developed. Is this just a natural extension of the philosophy of openness as recently expounded by Martin Weller or is this taking openness a step too far?

Carrying out course design in an open arena where anyone can see what you’re up to is going to involve the same worries and vulnerabilities as making the source code of your programs or the content of your courses open. It struck me that open course designers would have two questions:

  • Am I happy for people to see early versions of my work which may be far from perfect?
  • Will competitors steal our ideas and exploit them commercially first?

If the dialogue around course design is also in the public arena then you’re exposing yourself further:

  • What if I demonstrate my ignorance somehow through the comments I’m making?

Well it can be worrying to have early versions of your work visible publicly, particularly when you’re unsure of the validity of your ideas. However people are increasingly doing this through media such as blogs. Those prepared to expose themselves in this way obviously seem to think it’s worthwhile or they wouldn’t keep blogging. Getting feedback from others who have read your thoughts can be helpful and motivating. Confident open course designers may not mind their designs and discussions being in the public arena at all.

What about the commercial aspects? Should an organisation advertise in a very public way the course curriculum as it’s being developed, allowing other institutions to take their ideas and build even better courses? There may be something in this. I’ve heard people say that when they’re building a distance course the first thing they do is get hold of the Open University materials in that subject area.

Again the advantages of openness probably outweigh the disadvantages. Your course is likely to be complete before anyone else has had a chance to copy it and market it successfully. An open course design process may add visibility to your courses and even attract potential students. And a course, of course, is far more than its design and content – students also want the qualification and the tuition.

I don’t think all course teams will wish the processes and deliberations surrounding their course designs to be made available publicly, but some may be very happy to give it a try. I suspect they’ll find it enlightening and beneficial. Others may wish to restrict the openness to designs they’re happy with, keeping their dialogue to themselves. The hope is that Cloudworks will reach a critical mass, becoming a lively platform for people in different institutions to share course designs, ultimately benefitting students everywhere with better-designed courses.

You see I do listen.