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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Innovation and Open Content

The innovation discussion was hot on Twitter yesterday and in to today.  Apparently quite of few innovators believe they have been burned by the status quo.  The good news is that they are all going to leave the system for the world of entrepreneurs - and new businesses typically lead the way out of recessions in this country.

Fascinating article in the Chronicle on how Washington State is attempting to build 80 plus community college level courses using open content.  (  Their plan is to charge students $30 for use of the content.  I think that might be a maintenance price - I love the idea of open content, but the open content courses require a lot more maintenance than the publisher provided courses.  Or maybe not, maybe we are just changing who does the maintenance.  The $30 will need to go to whomever is providing that maintenance (faculty I assume) to keep the courses updated, current, and the links live.  They will also need to have an assigned person to handle emergencies -- what happens when a critical source disappears mid-semester?   Unfortunately that happens with some degree of regularity.

MITE/NROC (  was founded a few years ago with a similar goal and discovered that there really wasn't all that much high end, multi-media-based open content available.  They are now creating high-end managed-source content.  I wonder if anyone in Washington State actually tried to build a course or two before coming up with this plan?  Again, not that it isn't a great idea, but someone has to create all of this content, pull it together into flexible courses, and then maintain it.  That's a very large and complex project. I wish them luck and I'd really like to help!

Here is my cynical side thinking out loud though -- colleges and universities are happy to talk about the high cost of textbooks and how continuous revisions that aren't really revisions are costing students much more than they need to pay.  But really, the cost of textbooks pales next to the cost of tuition and even room and board.  If our students paid a few thousand dollars less for tuition they could afford those expensive textbooks with all the nice ancillary materials and interactive technologies.  Tuition is a university issue though and not something that can be easily blamed on the publishers.

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