Checklist for an Open CourseWare Semester

OCW checklistFor many of us, another semester is right around the corner. For those of us who adhere to an Open CourseWare (OCW) philosophy, it’s a good time to evaluate (or re-evaluate) our personal OCW strategy. For those who are thinking about getting onboard with OCW, now is a perfect time to think about how best to go about getting in on the game. In the spirit of this, I would like to present a few items that should be on anyone’s start of the semester OCW checklist—things that are best decided at the beginning of developing (or revamping) an open course. As is customary, this list is hardly exhaustive or comprehensive. It is simply the things that I think are important to think about. For a more comprehensive look at developing a personal OCW strategy (as opposed to a brief pre-semester checklist) have a look at my Developing a Personal Open Courseware Strategy post. That having been said, let’s get to the checklist!

What to Put Up?

Different courses have different types of course materials (obviously). Some of the content you use in your course might not be appropriate for an open course. So, you need to make some decisions about what you are going to put up on the open course and what to leave out. There are practical considerations in play. If you want to include lecture audio on your open course, you need to make sure you have the ability (and equipment) to record and edit. You also need to make sure you record every lecture (as opposed to just recording two or three). If you want to include lecture slides, you need to make sure that they are standardized (in terms of format) and the series is complete. The bottom line is that when it comes to an open course, just make a logical (and practical) plan as to what you want to put up.

Beyond the practical considerations, there are also copyright issues in play. Many classes rely on copyrighted materials. Should you include these materials in your open course? For instance, many of my classes have videos or video clips. It’s always been a challenge for me to decide whether I should digitize these and put them online. My logic is that because many of the videos are vital to the class , leaving them out of the open course website makes the class seem somewhat incomplete (and therefore less useful as an actual open course). Despite new DMCA Exemptions, putting an entire digitized video online definitely falls into the “this sure as heck isn’t fair use” and “wow, I’m probably going to get in trouble for this” categories. Many (including myself) have thought that putting videos behind password protection (setting one passwords for the class or hooking in to your university’s authentication system) is a perfectly logical solution to treading in the unhappy land of copyright violation. Makes sense, right? By password protecting materials, you limit their access to just your students (as opposed to broadcasting them to the world). Well, this might still not be enough. Recently, the Association for Information and Media Equipment (an educational media trade group) threatened to sue UCLA, arguing that the streaming video which was behind the university’s authentication still infringed on copyright. Despite the fact that UCLA asserted that they weren’t in the wrong, they suspended the practice and are seeking to settle the matter out of court. The result is that faculty who assume that putting copyrighted video material behind some sort of university authentication will protect them (and the university) from nasty takedown letters and maybe even lawsuits probably need to rethink their strategy.

Student Work, Public or Private?

One of the most challenging questions (especially if your course website is the primary platform for class assignments) is whether or not student work should be open and accessible as well. On one hand, having student work (blog posts, wiki assignments, etc.) open and accessible is a great way to add depth to the class. On the other hand, putting student material online without their express permission is a major violation of FERPA. So, what to do? My solution is to ask each student at the beginning of the class if they want their work accessible to the public. If they don’t object, cool. However, if they they have an issue, I simply agree to password protect their posts. I also tell students that if there are specific assignments that they want password protect, while leaving the rest of their material open and accessible, that’s cool as well. The funny thing is that after years of doing this, I’ve never had a student who had a problem with their written assignments (mainly blogs and wikis) being completely open and forward facing.

What is your Platform?

In all honesty, this is a bit of a no-brainer. You can’t create an open course without choosing the platform that you are going to use to serve the course. However, I think it’s worth saying that it is very much in your best interest to make an informed choice ahead of the game as to the platform that works best for your needs. It’s far better to do some research beforehand than to find yourself in the middle of the semester with a platform that doesn’t meet your open course needs. Granted, if you’ve already chosen what content you are going to publish on your open course (and planned ahead) switching platforms shouldn’t be too much work.

Don’t Forget the Creative Commons Language

One of the key aspects of an open course is that it is published with some sort of open source license—the most logical and popular being a Creative Commons license. This ensures that your content is used in the way you deem appropriate (by attribution, non-commercially, etc.). There are a bunch of ways you could do this: as a footer on every page, as a paragraph in the “About” section of the class site, or by using one of the handy-dandy Creative Commons license badges.

The Bottom Line

As I said at the opening, this checklist is hardly comprehensive. The one theme (if you can have a theme with a four item checklist) is that planning ahead is a good thing. It’ll save you grief and extra work down the line, and will ultimately ensure that your open course is more valuable and useful to your audience.

Ok, now it’s time for you to share. What is on your pre-semester OCW checklist?

[Image by Flickr user koalazymonkey / Creative Commons licensed]

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