Open Business Models #ioe12

The question that seems to arise from throughout the course topics is one of sustainability and the open business models topic considers this area in more detail.

When looking at particularly the concept of OpenCourseWare (OCW) there is the concern that it can’t be achieved without major subsidies. The MIT OCW seems to always be quoted, as is the investment figure running to millions of dollars required each year to maintain the initiative.

[Aside: However, this approach seems to be based on maintaining and propagating the existing systems of higher education structures. “How can we get to a (financially) sustainable position of providing openness in education whilst still doing what we are doing?” And if we have seen anything over the last decade or two, existing systems/business models adapt or die. Cable Green in the next topic, Open Policy, makes a valid point that possibly we are asking the wrong question. “What are we trying to achieve?” is the primary and fundamental question. If we are trying to achieve the maintenance of the existing educational system then possibly the answer is different to us trying to expand and open education much more fundamentally to enable access to all who want it. From an institutional or organisational perspective openness is a question of mission and strategy, which includes community outreach, marketing, retention, student satisfaction, etc. Financial sustainability is part of a larger strategic discussion. However, there are moral and ethical issues for the sustainability position of openness to consider.]

So running through the course readings for the Open Business Models.

The Johansen & Wiley, 2010, ‘A  Sustainable Model for OpenCourseWare Development’ article/paper is primarily devoted to analysing the possibility of adapting courses at Bingham Young University (BYU) to create OCWs, and the financial implications of that process to reach financial sustainability.

[The main cost of adapting existing courses is ‘copyright scrubbing’. This is the process of identifying copyrighted content, identifying the rights holder(s), negotiating for rights to use the material(s), and paying any applicable fees. Alternate solutions after identifying copyrighted content are to remove any such content, or to create your own alternative content (still requiring resourcing).]

The paper works through the analysis, drawing on concerns about the potential loss of revenue from participants learning from the open courseware balanced against the potential increased sign-ups to register on the formal, paid-for course enrolments. Examples like that of the Open University in the UK are highlighted, I’ve written about this myself previously.

Figures are calculated within the paper of the revenue levels required versus the costs of adapting to OCW for BYU example courses. It provides a useful resource for institutional policy makers looking to perform a similar analysis.

However, I think my recommendations would be to ensure that resourcing factors are taken into account at the course production stages – record staff time to produce the course. Also, copyright and licensing of material should be considered from the onset of the production process for materials destined for open use.

The other ‘readings’ from the topic centre on book authoring and publishing, be it general of textbook specific. I personally found the Hilton & Wiley, 2011, ‘Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet’ of interest. In this article, 10 authors were asked a set of questions about their views on open publishing and whether there were affects on sales. The general consensus amongst the authors was that they had a desire to increase the exposure of their works; open publishing achieved this by increasing readership to those who wouldn’t otherwise have accessed the works. They felt that there was little impact in relation to loss of sales of people who accessed the open publishing rather than bought the book. Indeed, the authors felt that sales of the books actually increased as a consequence of the open publishing availability; arguments related to accessing the works to see whether they were worth buying, and preferring to read a ‘hard’ copy than off the screen. Since publication, however, sales of electronic copies of books to Amazon’s Kindle eReader have outstripped their ‘hard’ copy sales of equivalent titles. In light of this statistic, it would be interesting to see subsequent analysis of open publishing to eBook format and whether there is any affect on sales.

The textbook model related topic readings relate mainly to The Flat World Knowledge (FWK) approach, of which David Wiley is the Chief Openness Officer; with passing reference to Rice University’s Connexions and Wikibooks. FWK uses a ‘freemium’ strategy, giving away some elements and charging a ‘premium’ for other services, however it doesn’t subsidize with advertising revenue. So students can access full online versions of the textbooks for free, or pay for printed, PDF or audio versions for example.

OpenCourseWare ioe12

OpenCourseWare (OCW) is the provision of course materials provided openly on the Web and pioneered by MIT.

I recall the time of the MIT announcement as I worked in a Computing Services department of a UK university the Deputy Director at the time saying that MIT was putting all its courses online. I tried to make the distinction that it wasn’t their courses but their courseware that was being made public and that there was much more to a course than its content. Fundamentally, education is more that just content, it is the added value above and beyond the content; it is the interaction of students with faculty, with other students, with experts, with novices, anything that creates an intellectually challenging environment to challenge pre-existing beliefs. In the Openness in Education OpenCourseWare topic video, the announcement press conference (I’ve linked to the MIT hosted version) filmed at MIT (4 April 2001), MIT President Charles Vest makes this point quite distinctly in his opening speech, and again in response to questioning. Importantly for me and the work I’m currently involved in, Prof. Vest strongly points to the “deeply ingrained sense of service” and “incredible idealism” within the MIT faculty. This for me encapsulated the ethos of a deep sense of commitment to what education means to illustrious and highly motivated educations at one of the world’s great educational institutions. Prof. Steve Lerman (Chairman of the Faculty) says that selling courses for profit is not why most of the faculty do what they do, and it’s not the mission of the University. A fundamental value is how you create and disseminate human knowledge. Also, the fact that such an idea, and indeed a venture, could come seemingly from the grassroots faculty is extremely encouraging for me personally.

Prof. Hal Abelson (EECS) points out that going through the process of creating OCW actually allows faculty to reflect upon their own teaching practice; what they are doing with their own students. Once the content has been ‘separated’ from the education process you are able to think more deeply about the overall educational experience.

Prof. Vest goes on to say that openness is a successful way for bright people to innovate, as was the case with software – so for education. This would seem to draw in other topics from the Openness in Education course, particularly the Open Source topic.

From the video, intellectual property rights wasn’t as large an issue for the faculty at MIT as had been anticipated. Instead there was more of a concern about quality of product and service to end user.

The MIT initiative celebrated its ten year anniversary in April last year. In those intervening years, MIT through ‘OCW has shared materials from more than 2000 courses with an estimated 100 million individuals worldwide.’ (http://ocw.mit.edu/about/next-decade/ accessed 27 January 2012). Well over a million visits are logged each month on MIT OCW, accessed from 200 countries.

I guess paralleling the MIT OCW, the Open High School of Utah is committed to making available its entire curriculum as Open Courseware, thus providing a freely available high school level education.

The OpenCourseWare Consortium

The OpenCourseWareConsortium is a worldwide community of hundreds of higher education institutions and associated organizations committed to advancing OpenCourseWare and its impact on global education. They serve as a resource for starting and sustaining OCW projects, as a coordinating body for the movement on a global scale, and as a forum for exchange of ideas and future planning. (http://ocwconsortium.org/en/aboutus/abouttheocwc accessed 27 Jaunary 2012).

Individuals, whether they represent Consortium members or not, are welcome to use and modify materials and resources found on this website, and to participate in discussions, webinars, communities of interest, and other Consortium activities. (http://ocwconsortium.org/en/members/howtojoin accessed 27 January 2012).

There is a useful search facility on the site to allow access to courseware from member institutions, with course descriptions and overviews, and links to access and download the full courseware or individual sections. You can also access courses via the categorizations or the catalog.

The Toolkit section of the Consortium’s website has a collection of resources (or a ‘shed full of toolkits’) to help with development of an OCW project. This will prove very useful for me personally in the immediate future.

There is a master list of Consortium members, or you can use the map or list of countries/regions to narrow down your search to a geographical area.

In the UK there are six OpenCourseWare Consortium members:

Institutions of Higher Education   

Organizational Members

This compares with 51 from the USA, four from Canada, one from Australia, 39 from Spain, and 25 from Japan.