Utah State U.’s OpenCourseWare Closes Because of Budget Woes

The Utah State University OpenCourseWare project has shut down because it ran out of money, according to its former director, making it perhaps the biggest venture to close in the burgeoning movement to freely publish course materials online.

The project published a mix of digital content — lecture notes, syllabi, audio and video recordings — from more than 80 courses before its demise. Its aspiration had been to open up access to materials from every Utah State University course, said Marion R. Jensen, the former director.

Instead, Mr. Jensen was laid off on June 30. And, while the Utah OpenCourseWare Web site remains up for now, it no longer has any dedicated staff and is no longer adding new courses.
David Wiley, an associate professor at Brigham Young University and an open-education leader, characterized Utah’s open-course collection as apparently the second-largest in the country, behind MIT’s. Its demise, Mr. Wiley wrote, is “heartbreaking.”

The cause? The effort ran through grant money from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and $200,000 from the state Legislature. It needed $120,000 a year to keep going. But it failed to secure any more state or university money, Mr. Jensen said, despite being the third-most-visited Web site hosted by Utah State University.

“It’s just a bad timing issue,” Mr. Jensen told The Chronicle this morning. “The recession hit. People wanted to keep us up, but the economy was just such that we could not find money anywhere.”

Mr. Jensen still hopes money can be found to get the project back up and running. But its mothballing marks an unpleasant milestone for the open-course movement: “the first one that, I think, has closed for sustainability reasons,” said Steve Carson, president of the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

“I think it points to the issue of having a diversified set of support for your project,” Mr. Carson said. “If you’ve got one way that the project is being supported, then it obviously puts you at some level of risk.”

Earlier this year, there had also been speculation that Utah State University’s press could become the first academic-press casualty of the economic crisis.

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