Open.Michigan: Study.com Speaks with the Open Learning Team at the University of Michigan

Feb 28, 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 Emily Puckett Rodgers, Open Education Coordinator at the University of Michigan, about Open.Michigan, U-M's innovative open learning project.

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By Megan Driscoll

Emily Puckett Rodgers from Open.Michigan

Study.com: When did the University of Michigan begin offering free education resources online, and what inspired you to join the OCW Consortium?

Emily Puckett Rodgers: The University of Michigan began to publish open educational resources created by our teaching community in 2007. The Open.Michigan initiative grew out of an interest to develop OpenCourseWare at our institution through the financial support of the Medical School's current dean.

While we believe that learning materials not directly associated with academic courses are also valuable to the open education movement, we share the OCW consortium's vision of fully meeting the desire to learn anywhere in the world. As a public institution known for our quality research and teaching opportunities, the Open.Michigan initiative has a strong desire to support the development of open education across institutions.

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

EPR: There are two principles on which Open.Michigan is founded:

  1. Public universities have a responsibility to share the knowledge and resources they create; and
  2. Transparency is essential for the health and growth of educational institutions.

By finding ways to foster these two principles at the University of Michigan, Open.Michigan strives to create a vibrant culture of sharing. It also aims to support an institutional commitment to public access to the knowledge we produce on our campuses.

Study.com: What percentage of U-M's course materials have made it onto the Open.Michigan website and what sort of content is typically available for each course?

EPR: As a small, decentralized initiative on campus, Open.Michigan relies on the investment of a distributed group of trained supporters that work with specific faculty and on specific projects to prepare and publish our OER. This program, called dScribe, is mostly volunteer-based and composed of students, staff and faculty who have all been trained to help prepare learning materials for publication as OER. To date, Open.Michigan has openly published about 80 courses (including thousands of materials) from over 12 schools and departments but realizes it has only scratched the surface of U-M course content.

Open.Michigan continues to seek and support U-M faculty interested in publishing their teaching materials. Since migrating to our Drupal platform, publishing courses has become faster and more efficient. It is now also possible to allow faculty to publish and maintain their own content.

Many of our OER based on course materials feature lecture slides, syllabi, assignments and reading lists. They are all published in multiple formats including PDF, the native format the material was created in (usually Microsoft Word or PowerPoint) and Open Office. We are currently researching ways to add more video and audio content to our OER offerings.

Study.com: What resources are offered on your OER site in addition to courseware?

EPR: As publishers of OER, Open.Michigan makes available materials that emerge from all aspects of the learning environment at the University of Michigan, whether they are associated with a specific course or not. We often consult with faculty or staff at the University of Michigan to determine how to apply open licenses to their websites, projects and resources. We then promote these resources from our own website.

We have supported the publication of open textbooks such as the Michigan Chemical Process Dynamics and Controls Open Textbook for the U-M course Process Dynamics and Controls. We also feature The Eyes Have It, an interactive teaching and assessment program on vision care.

Another type of resource we have published is a tutorial created for writing teachers, Teaching Persuasive Writing that addresses the opportunities for lifelong learning often present at universities.

Study.com: The Open.Michigan website offers multiple ways for community members to connect. Can you describe these opportunities, and how they help the university promote open education?

EPR: Folks just learning about Open.Michigan, OER or the Open Access movement can visit our 'Connect' page to find out about a variety of ways we connect the community to opportunities to share and learn.

We connect individuals interested in collaborating on projects and ideas. Our most recent example is a two-part series we developed and hosted that invited all university members to design the 'textbook' of the future. It brought over thirty participants from all across U-M together to share ideas, collaborate and brainstorm new opportunities for teaching using emerging technologies.

We connect students interested in working with faculty to share resources. For example, we have developed the dScribe process so that interested individuals can gain expertise and training as they partner with others on our campus to publish OER. We connect individuals who want to share with the resources to do it and staff who are knowledgeable and dedicated to serving the public.

Our team continues to develop new ways for people to get in touch, get or give feedback about our resources and get involved. One of our most recent features on our site is our contact form that offers one more way for people to connect with our team. We're active on Twitter and Facebook and you can check out photos from our events on our Flickr page.

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

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EPR: Many of our U.S. users come from Ann Arbor or the surrounding area. We know that many currently enrolled and prospective U-M students look at our resources to determine the quality and fit of a U-M degree to their educational goals.

However, over the last six months more than 40 percent of our site visitors came from 162 countries other than the U.S. We use Google Analytics to track this data, including tracking countries of origin, referring sites and bandwidth. We're happy to share this data with others, especially those working in the field of open education.

As an initiative that is just starting our third full year of operation, we are beginning to develop more robust mechanisms for evaluation and are currently conducting an evaluation of our impact that seeks to more fully examine our users and their motivations to use or create open resources.

Study.com: What percentages of your users are students matriculated at other universities, self learners and instructors from other institutions?

EPR: While we don't have specific demographic data, we do know that we have a wide range of users that include self learners, educators from both higher and secondary education and students from other universities. We plan to collect more data about each of these audiences and understand their uses of OER so that we can better meet their needs. We have received feedback from external students who use our lectures to supplement their courses and external faculty who have used them to create lectures.

Study.com: Are there any other current or in-development initiatives at the University of Michigan to promote open education?

EPR: Many individual faculty and student organizations across campus are independently involved in developing open textbooks and open journals. One example is the Student Handbook for Global Engagement. When we discover these projects, we promote them on our Projects page.

Open.Michigan enjoys a strong relationship with the University of Michigan Library, including MPublishing and the Copyright Office. These departments within the Library represent a deep investment in supporting and developing open academic practices, including education, training and publications. On an individual level, there are U-M faculty engaged in producing OER in their daily teaching practices. Dr. Charles Severance, a Clinical Associate Professor at the School of Information, features several of his lectures and resources on his website and he has also created PythonLearn.com for anyone to learn Python.

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

EPR: Open.Michigan has been very successful in advocating for and developing educational initiatives with institutional partners that include the creation and use of OER. We have collaborated with several African institutions, including the University of Ghana and the University of Cape Town, to form the African Health OER Network, a Hewlett-supported initiative. The goal of this initiative is to advance healthcare education in Africa by using open educational resources to share knowledge, address curriculum gaps and build communities of practice around healthcare education.

These efforts have led to the growth of other collaborations across the University of Michigan with regard to developing medical resources for African countries, including Open.Michigan's involvement in the Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative.

Open.Michigan also helps other OCW and OER programs build their infrastructure by sharing our working documents, planning resources and software. We believe all universities can create OER and that we should help each other along the way to simplify the processes. We most recently presented our tools, resources and tips to the Students for Free Culture conference, showing students how they can get involved in this effort.

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