Unlocking the Gates – Book on Online Courseware Development!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this month I posted on this blog  a piece entitled, Online Courses:  Where’s the Teacher commenting on a NY Times article written by a business professor from San Diego State University.  Reference in the article was made to a book, Unlocking the Gates:  How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses (Princeton University Press) by Taylor Walsh.  This book has been making the rounds in the higher education press mainly because of its review of several high-profile courseware development initiatives such as those at M.I.T. and Carnegie Mellon.  Ms. Walsh works for Ithaka S+R, a not-for-profit service that supports innovation in the academic community.   The introduction is written by William Bowen (Princeton, Andrew Mellon Foundation).  I just finished reading this book and here is my quick review.

Ms. Walsh  provides case studies on seven high profile online courseware development initiatives by major universities:

Fathom  (Columbia University et al)

Alliance for Life Long Learning/AllLearn (Oxford, Princeton et al)

M.I.T.’s Open CourseWare

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative

Open Yale Courses


India’s National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning

The case studies are interesting and based on data gathered from interviews and primary and secondary documents.   Most of these initiatives were not developed as fully online courses but more as materials that could be used/integrated into traditional courses.  Fathom, AllLearn and Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative surely could be self-contained courses.  I found the overall case studies informative and helpful in placing these initiatives in the context of the historical development of online learning in higher education.  Students and scholars will find that the material fills some of the gaps in this area.  Perhaps the most provocative comments/aspects of this book are in its conclusions/epilogue.  Here is a sample:

“Quoting Daniel Greenstein, U. of California’s vice provost:  ‘Will online education continue to be viewed as suspect – the provenance of bottom-feeding for-profits’ or will highly selective institutions make online education more central to their academic programs.  p. 257

“For the highly selective tier of higher education, threats to livelihoods because of technologically mediated unbundling are far in the future (if present at all).  p. 259

“The selective universities that have been the trailblazers in developing these courseware materials for the general public have  been among the most reluctant to use them to reform their own pedagogical approaches”  p. 260


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