A Virtual Classroom Pioneer: Speaks with the New Jersey Institute of Technology

Mar 25, 2011

In the pursuit of increasing access to education, has recently launched an interview series with OpenCourseWare (OCW) providers around the world. These institutions are at the forefront of the open education movement, which provides free educational resources to any student or self learner with an Internet connection. Read on to learn about OCW opportunities at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) from Blake Haggerty, Assistant Director for Instructional Design.

By Megan Driscoll

Blake Haggerty New Jersey Institute of Technology When did NJIT begin offering course materials online, and what inspired you to join the OCW Consortium?

Blake Haggerty: The New Jersey Institute of Technology has a long history of offering course materials online. NJIT first offered online course materials to supplement face-to-face courses in 1978 as part of Dr. Murray Turoff's research initiatives, and we offered our first entirely online course back in 1984.

Turoff and his colleague, Dr. Roxanne Hiltz,, currently Emeritus NJIT Professors, are credited as being the prime movers behind the now burgeoning field of online learning after the publication of their book, The Network Nation, in 1978. Their research and pilot applications led NJIT to secure the registered mark to the term Virtual Classroom® in 1984.

In January 2007, NJIT was one of the first schools selected to participate in Apple's public iTunes U initiative. This was the first major initiative to make course materials available for free to the general public. Based upon the interest in our 'NJIT on iTunes U' site, we decided to explore additional venues for sharing open materials and the OCW seemed like the next logical step. Is there a particular educational philosophy that drives your participation in open education?

BH: Our participation in the OpenCourseWare Consortium is driven by our desire to promote the advancement and dissemination of knowledge to students and self learners all over the world. While we will not be able to share materials for all of our courses, we believe that the ever-growing number of faculty contributions to the OCW project represent a step in the right direction. Your website indicates that you've been developing unique strategies and codes of best practice for OCW. Can you describe this process and tell us what your work has yielded so far?

BH: Within months of joining the OCW Consortium we were able to make available materials for 21 courses. This number, while small, is impressive for a university which is essentially an engineering school of some 9,000 students. Even so, one thing that helps us stand out is the number of multimedia files that we make available. Many schools will publish syllabi, assignments, PowerPoint presentations or sample quizzes. We have been making a conscience effort to focus on making courses with multimedia components available. Best practice wisdom suggests that digitally-based learning becomes more engaging to the student when appropriately infused with multimedia. Have other universities taken advantage of your research to refine their own OCW projects? If so, please elaborate. If not, do you plan to help other institutions follow your model in the future?

BH: A number of us have spoken with other public, private and nonprofit organizations about our OCW initiative. We have done this in order to help these external entities become more aware of the resources available to them to use and share with the aim of advancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge. As a public research university, we believe that the more people that understand and learn STEM fields, the more likely it is that individuals will be able to adjust and contribute to the evolving global economy in which we are all living,

With that said, we are not aware of any specific institutions that have used our site as a model to refine or launch their own OCW initiatives. However, given the support that is provided by the OpenCourseWare Consortium, that is not surprising. The Consortium was incredibly supportive when we approached them about becoming a member. Between their support staff and online resources, there is an abundance of tools and resources available.

Individual faculty members have heard from students and educators from around the world thanking them for making their materials available. That sort of feedback is always encouraging and rewarding. What's your final goal for your OCW site - do you hope to offer all of NJIT's course materials online? What types of materials do you currently offer?

BH: Participation in the OCW is completely voluntary for instructors, so we don't foresee having material available for all of our courses. With that said, there is an increasing number of faculty embracing the idea of open education.

Two of the biggest obstacles right now are time and copyright. This initiative was done without the assistance of grant money or additional budgetary resources. Our support staff work on this project as time allows in their busy schedules, and there is always a backlog of courses that could be published.

The copyright concerns revolve around the fact that we will only publish on our OCW site materials that are completely clear of any copyrighted materials. There is a difference between fair use in a face-to-face classroom and what would be a copyright violation if those same samples get published online. We do not have the resources to reach out to copyright holders to secure permission to offer their materials throughout OCW site. What are the demographics of your primary users? Do you track their countries of origin, age group or other information?

BH: We do have web analytics software in place that collects some information about our users. Before we launched, the OpenCourseWare Consortium told us to expect a significant number of international visitors. Our usage reports confirmed this with 40 percent of our traffic coming from visitors living in other countries.

We know that our four most popular courses are Management Accounting, Organizational Behavior, Human Resource Management and Technical Writing. Are there any other current or in-development initiatives at NJIT to promote open education?

BH: Over the past four years NJIT has explored ways that we can incorporate open source software on campus. One of the best examples is that we have migrated to Moodle (an open source learning management system) to assist with the delivery of face-to-face and online courses.

The NJIT Division of Continuing Professional Education is creating a 'home' for OpenCourseWare developers and would-be developers. That is, the division has begun to offer a series of short training courses on new and emerging OCW subjects. The series emphasizes not just traditional training but opportunities for members of the OpenCourseWare community to network, share ideas and mentor one another. This approach to a continuing education program is itself in the spirit of the OCW movement. Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about NJIT's OCW program.

BH: Given the popularity and need today for just-in-time learning, if there is something you need to know immediately - for your work or personal interest - we invite you to explore our OCW resources as well as all of the materials we make available free to the public in our iTunesU site.

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