A Pathway for Open Education: Study.com Speaks with the University of California, Irvine

Mar 15, 2011

In the pursuit of increasing access to education, Study.com has recently launched an interview series with OpenCourseWare (OCW) providers around the world. These institutions are at the forefront of the open education movement, providing free educational resources to anyone with an Internet connection. Study.com recently spoke with Dr. Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education and distance learning at UC Irvine.

Dr. Gary Matkin, UC Irvine

Study.com: When did UC Irvine begin offering course materials online, and what motivated you to join the OCW consortium?

Dr. Gary Matkin: The UC Irvine (UCI) Distance Learning Center was officially started in August 2001. Its first major project was the development and delivery of the UC system's first online degree program, and today it offers over 130 online courses per quarter. Online education continues to be the fastest growing segment of UC Irvine Extension's portfolio.

Working from its success in for-credit online education, UCI invested in the growing open educational resource (OER) and OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiatives to provide UC-quality courses and instructional materials for free to students and teachers around the world. UCI became the first West Coast university to support the OCW movement by joining the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC) as a sustaining member.

The University officially launched its OCW website with 10 complete continuing education courses on November 30, 2006, and it now offers 50 full courses, 70 video lectures and over 1,000 learning assets.

Study.com: Is there a particular educational philosophy that drives your participation in open education?

GM: Yes. Unlike many other institutional OCW websites that offer only degree courses as OCW, UCI has paid special attention to the targeting of specific, deserving audiences who seek to continue their education. These audiences are served with courses designed specifically for their needs and built to be 'stand alone,' or self-paced, learning experiences without the help of an instructor.

For example, one of UCI's most critical and highly utilized collections of courses is the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET). This collection provides prospective California teachers with resources to prepare for the rigorous subject matter examinations required to teach science and mathematics in California's K-12 schools.

At UCI, we believe that OCW is an institutional imperative and that universities and institutions of higher education around the world should create and sustain their own OCW initiatives. To support this movement, we are currently developing an additional section of our OCW website to provide an inside look at how we approach our OCW. This information can be used by other institutions as reference and testimony to how UCI is serving its educational, research and public service missions though OCW.

Study.com: You maintain a blog as part of your OCW site. What topics does it typically cover and how does it help promote the primary mission of your OCW project?

GM: UCI's OCW blog is utilized to create a forum for discussion about the key issues and trends surrounding the open education movement. We also use our blog to announce the addition of new open courses, video lectures, course materials or collections to our website.

Study.com: UC Irvine recently hosted a forum on open licensing for textbooks. Can you tell us more about what open textbooks are and the effect they could have on open education?

GM: The UCI OCW team recently hosted UCI's first-ever Open Textbook Forum. The goal of the forum was to introduce faculty and university administrators to new opportunities in textbook usage and authoring. The event was a huge success in terms of attendance and substantive discussion, and we were fortunate enough to have a panel of industry thought leaders in open textbooks and open education. Our panel included Eric Frank, president and founder of Flat World Knowledge, Stephen Carson, external director of MIT's OCW, Mary Lou Forward, executive director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium and Michael Dennin, UCI faculty member, Physics and Astronomy and Chair of the Educational Policy Council of the UCI Academic Senate.

At UCI, we believe it is inevitable that the extensive use of openly available digitized educational resources will rapidly replace printed textbooks and the teaching processes based on them. This replacement will be spurred by both cost concerns and pedagogical efficiency. Digitized material, often supplied along with print materials from textbook publishers, is available for teachers and learners alike and will certainly become a valuable resource in open education. Teachers and learners should be encouraged to become familiar with and use open textbooks. The more teachers and learners become informed about the nature and extent of digitized and open-learning resources, the easier it will be to insert these resources effectively into the teaching/learning process.

Study.com: What percentage of Irvine's course materials have made it onto your OCW website and what types of materials do you offer - course syllabi, exams, video or audio lectures. . . ?

GM: UC Irvine's site features over 50 complete online courses, over 1,000 learning assets and 70 video lectures from some of UCI's most prominent faculty members. Currently more than 50 UCI faculty have contributed materials to our OCW effort, from full courses to video lectures. Many of our OCW offerings are directed at working adults seeking continuing education, with the option to enroll in instructor-led, for-credit courses related to the OCW content.

Our site also provides students and self learners around the globe with access to UCI faculty-created undergraduate and graduate courses that are currently being taught to matriculated UCI students. And finally, we have created 'collections' of materials around selected subject areas. These collections are curated by UCI faculty and represent repositories of valuable learning and teaching materials organized in ways useful to learners and instructors everywhere. UCI OCW also republishes its courses and course materials on You Tube EDU and iTunes U.

Study.com: What are the demographics of your primary users? Do you track their countries of origin, age group or other information, and can you share this data?

GM: The UCI OCW team utilizes Web Trends and Google Analytics to track the usage and success of its website. Although our OCW course repository is much more limited than MIT, we did follow their lead by trying to gather and record as much relevant data as possible.

Since the launch of our website in 2006, UCI's OCW has received 450,000 visits from 370,000 visitors from around the world. Our site receives over 30,000 visits per month from 160 countries (1/3 of our current monthly traffic is international). The top 10 countries that our site receives visits from are the United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Philippines, UK, China, Australia, Singapore and South Africa.

Our most visited courses are Organic Chemistry, California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) Science Preparatory Courses, CSET Math Preparatory Courses, Chemistry 51A: Organic Chemistry, Computer Science 171: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, Training and Human Resources Development (in English), Capital Markets, Training and Human Resources Development (in Portuguese), Introduction to Project Management and the Law as Theory and Method in Legal History video conference.

Study.com: Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about Irvine's OCW program.

GM: We are now seeing significant interest for OCW from the UCI campus. Besides the faculty who contribute materials, whole departments and schools are now looking to the OCW web site to showcase some of the unique offerings of the UCI campus. After working with the Department of Population, Health and Disease Prevention for two years, we know that our project resulted in the growth of both their undergraduate major and their MPH program. Now, we are working with the schools of Physical Sciences, Social Ecology and Law to reach out beyond California, putting up educational resources on the web for the rest of the world.

Next September, the first class of the new graduate program in Public Policy will matriculate, and we are already starting to design an open Public Policy collection around the outstanding faculty that is part of this program. So it will be possible to get at least some of the benefits of this program from anywhere in the world. Of course, we anticipate that some of the users who become familiar with our program will also want to work with these same professors face-to-face and earn a degree at UCI. That is the key to the sustainability of OCW. From the thousands who benefit from UCI OCW, a small percentage also will enroll.

Our latest innovation is the 'collections' section of our OCW website. It was created based on the notion that learning is not a matter of a single course, but of concentrated study and paths of study. For example, the collections section addresses an interdisciplinary field such as sustainability and provides many exploratory pathways through it, sometimes combining courses based on cutting-edge research with courses and learning objects for use in K-12 schools.

We also hope to add a way for all of the learners who cannot attend classes at UCI to benefit from its educational materials. While we cannot make our professors personally available to guide this experience, we are open to developing outside study groups to provide some of the social experiences that make learning possible. To date, we have preliminary discussions with three outside projects - Peer2Peer University, Sophia (still in beta) and OpenStudy.com.

We also see a way for continuing education to benefit from the wealth of materials available on our Web site. We are currently exploring how to assign credit for continuing and professional education based at least in part on the completion of an open learning pathway.


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