We’re big proponents of online and open coursework here at OpenStudy–and we’ve written about it before. But there’s been little said about the specifics of the open course programs themselves. With this post, we hope to highlight some of the strongest open course programs available today. This by no means a comprehensive list (just for starters, we’re ignoring well-developed programs in Japan, France, and a variety of Spanish-language schools because of the language barrier), these programs offer a good snapshot of the different ways in which open courses can approach conveying information for those not pursuing a degree.
1. MIT OpenCourseWare – For someone looking to expand their knowledge of a subject without receiving a degree, there’s almost no better place than MIT OCW (and we’re not just saying that because their study groups are with us). MIT OCW’s greatest strength is the breadth of its offerings–the program’s been running for nearly 10 years, and it’s acquired a huge amount of courses. There are over 2,000 courses, which is pretty amazing. Though much of the course material is available for OCW users on YouTube and Flickr (and other similarly easy-to-use sites), the inconsistent availability of extra course materials, like assignments, answers, or course notes can be tough to navigate–how much is available varies from course to course. However, the ease of use, the wide course availability, and intuitive interface of the OCW site makes MIT OCW easily the best OCW offering out there.
2. NYU Open Education - NYU’s strong integration with iTunes U and YouTube, particularly for standalone material, is impressive. Unlike MIT OCW, which is focused on people who want to complete an entire course’s worth of material, NYU’s program, with its podcasts and videos, is useful for people looking to learn something new in a short burst of free time (much like the TED talks). Currently, there are only two actual courses available in the program (a social history of New York and an American Literature course). However, the ease of content distribution for those two courses (users just pick what lecture they want to listen to from a drop-down list, and a reading list is provided) means that this program has great potential going forward.
3. Johns Hopkins OpenCourseWare - This program is interesting because it’s very focused–the courses offered focus on all aspects of public health. The courses are organized by topic (adolescent health, geriatric medicine, etc.), and the individual course sites are intuitive to use and provide course syllabuses and links to articles relevant to individual lectures. However, the course materials offered from the school are mostly lecture notes, rather than the lectures themselves in video format. This is the biggest weakness of the program; otherwise, it is potentially a useful resource for someone looking to build an in-person health curriculum at the k-12 or university level, and is a good source of review or additional learning for those already in the field. The readings lists are particularly useful for those trying to teach themselves.
4. Notre Dame OpenCourseWare – Notre Dame’s OCW project seems to have the second-highest number of courses after MIT, and on a similarly wide range of subjects. The course catalog closely mirrors a traditional one–if a course is cross-listed, that fact is noted and students are directed to the site on which the cross-listed materials are provided. What is particularly nice about this program is that lists of assignments (and assessment rubrics, when appropriate) are provided; if a student wants to design a blog as part of a computer technology class, the OCW website provides enough information to point them where they need to go. However, the lecture is not provided in video format–instead, a transcript of the course or a very complete lecture note outline is provided. These materials are more than enough to go on for a beginning student; however, students miss out on the discussion interaction between students and the professor that’s possible to observe in filmed lectures. The courses are downloadable as .zip files, which is particularly nice.
5. Weber State University OpenCourseWare - In addition to being a nice representation of how even lesser-known institutions can have OCW programs, WSU’s OCW program is well-thought-out in that several of the courses available through it were for-credit distance learning courses to begin with. That means that some of the disconnect that can come from the translation from in-person to distance programs has already been dealt with. Though there’s not a huge selection of courses, the areas in which they are offered (including Criminal Justice) are interesting, and full-text transcripts of lectures are provided along with a reading list. This program is probably best-suited for working professionals trying to pick up a new skill for work or for their own interest without entering into a for-credit program.
As we’ve said, this is by no means a comprehensive list of open course programs. However, it covers a wide variety of American programs–all with unique course offerings and ways of delivering content. Especially for people in places where higher education is not readily available, open courses can be a way to use the internet to access education they’d otherwise never have access to.
Do you have a program you think we missed? Let us know in the comments!