Time to Make Public Education Public?

This is an exciting time for intellectually curious and resourceful students. An explosion of web-based educational materials has made detailed instruction on many topics easily and freely available to anyone with internet access. However, the vast majority of course materials, even from public universities, are still not available online. Some dedicated faculty have developed their own methods to share their course material with the world. More do not, however, because building one’s own course website can require esoteric technical knowledge. The systems that most universities provide for putting course material online do not allow public access. Instead, courses are hosted on proprietary, closed platforms like Blackboard that restrict access to enrolled students. In fact, even students who pay tuition but are not currently enrolled in the class cannot view the material.

Should course material be open-access?
Making educational materials more available has wide-spread benefit. There is a national push to make educational resources open and accessible to a broader audience. Encouraging public institutions to move their courses toward an open-access system would give students, the public, and other instructors access to the best that our higher education systems have to offer. For example, a high school science teacher who wants to enrich her curriculum by including contemporary research that goes beyond the textbook can find a rich set of university-level lectures to draw from.

In fact, the closed nature of many universities courses strikes us as downright odd. Many university courses are developed by state public employees, whose salaries are funded by a combination of state tax dollars, federal grants, and student fees. Traditionally, an academic’s work consists of research and teaching. The National Institutes of Health introduced a policy specifying that all research funded by NIH must be made available for open public access within a year of publication. Shouldn’t there be a similar standard for the classroom work done by instructors as well? After all, this work has arguably as much public benefit as the product of their research.

It is sadly ironic that a student paying full tuition and fees at a University of California campus has no access to the course material for on-campus classes they are not enrolled in, but can view many of the classes offered by MIT at no charge. Why are private institutions (such as MIT, Stanford and Yale) and independent websites (such as the Khan Academy) leading the way toward open-access courseware? Clearly they see an institutional and public benefit to putting their material online. Then why aren’t public universities, whose mission is to support education and the dissemination of knowledge in their home states, contributing in the same way?

We think the time has come to move toward an open-access policy for course materials created by public employees. Good idea? Bad idea? We would love to hear what you think.

We built thiscourse.com because we believe instructors should have a fast, easy way to get their course material online. Instructors using thisCourse can choose to make their courses open-access, with a stable, permanent URL that is easy for students around the world to find.

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