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University of Michigan's Pieter Kleymeer Shares His Program's Award-Winning Approach to Open Ed

May 25, 2011

Study.com recently attended the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC), a gathering of educators and professionals interested in the availability and application of free online college course materials known as OpenCourseWare (OCW). We had a chance to speak with several industry leaders, including Pieter Kleymeer, an open education specialist from the University of Michigan. We talked with Pieter about his school's new OCW project, the Open Michigan Initiative.

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Edited by Stacy Redd

Study.com: Can you tell us about what the University of Michigan does with OCW?

Pieter Kleymeer: The Open Michigan Initiative started in 2008, and we set out to share as many learning and educational resources from the University of Michigan as possible. We've been doing that through publishing OCW. We have a lot of complete courses that we've published, as well as general, independent resources that can be downloaded and shared.

Study.com: What do you think is the big draw for your users?

PK: I'm hoping it's high-quality content. That's always what you'd like the answer to be. We have a pretty narrow set of content right now that we've published mainly from the School of Information and the Medical School. I think those are two areas where there isn't a lot of existing content, so we're drawing a lot of people, especially to the medical content. One of our initial goals was to publish the first two years of Medical School lectures, and we're very close.

Study.com: How does medical school information get translated into online learning?

PK: Medical education and scientific education in general goes well beyond facts, graphs and data. Our medical education system includes things like patients, populations and understanding how to diagnose people and how to communicate with patients in a standard clinical setting. There's a lot that goes into it, and we haven't quite gotten to all of it yet. But some of the basic science stuff actually translates really well in terms of being able to offer images and lecture audio, which is what we're getting into.

Study.com: Are there any concerns that people would use the information from medical school courses unethically, like pretending to be practitioners?

PK: I think that's an issue with the Internet in general. It's sort of made everything a little DIY. When it comes to medical knowledge that's a little scarier because it can be life and death. So we have a disclaimer where we tell people they should consult a physician. And we don't encourage people to try to do their own procedures of any sort.

Study.com: What has the public reception been to Michigan's OCW?

PK: So far it's been really positive. A lot of people are excited by the idea. They like the idea of sharing learning resources with the world. They like the idea of being able to preview course content before they take a course. There will always be some people where this just doesn't make as much sense to them.

Study.com: The University of Michigan recently won the ACE award for technical innovation. What was that for?

PK: Over the last year we worked with a local software development firm called SwitchBack to create a publishing platform we call OERbit for all our OER (open educational resources) and OCW content. We customized it so that anyone could be able to use it to publish different resources. About a month ago we released it to the public under an open license.

Study.com: Do you expect other schools to pick it up and use it?

PK: Expect, no, but hope, yes. It would be great if other people can make use of it. We designed it with other people in mind but our main goal was, of course, to give ourselves a very stable, robust platform for publishing that would improve our workflow.

Study.com: What are your hopes for free education and open access to education?

PK: I think it's going to happen. People learn wherever they are, and people like to share what they've learned. My hope is that people will just continue sharing. I think we're going to be a better society for the greater openness and transparency in all of that.

Study.com: OCW typically doesn't grant credit. Do you feel like that's a barrier to adoption? Or do you think that will actually change the traditional education system in some way?

PK: I think you're going to see a combination of both. I think that, depending on the discipline of study, you'll see more informal processes for gaining credit or certification, and that will be recognized by a wider group of people. But in some disciplines, very often those where someone's life is in another person's hands, there are reasons why education is so formalized. Figuring out what parts of that could be made more informal and assessing student levels as they come into the process would be really important. But I definitely see the entire educational landscape changing and more people resorting to informal learning processes. I also see other people acknowledging that, even employers hiring based on it.

Study.com: Do you think it might lower the cost of education, say by allowing students to accelerate their path through a certain degree program?

PK: That's been done more and more with Advanced Placement courses at high schools, which allow students to take an exam and opt out of courses in college. I'm uncertain how colleges and universities will respond to an informal learning process. It might be a little too far out there right now.

The demand for college education continues to grow around the world. Clearly, universities can't meet all that demand. So something will come out to do that. It's going to be a trial-and-error process, especially for employers. A lot of the education system is based on what credentials an employer's looking for. They, in the end, could be the authority that determines what works.

Study.com: Do you have a favorite course that University of Michigan offers for free that our visitors can explore?

PK: Oh man. We've got a lot of great things. One course that I personally worked on and actually took in graduate school was a course on network theory and application. It mainly discusses social networks and how to analyze them. It's offered at the School of Information for both graduates and undergraduates. The instructor put a lot of time into creating demonstrations of how to analyze these networks and how they can change over time. There's just some really cool stuff in that course.

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