Digital Berkeley Course Joins the Open Education Movement

Jeff Rogers
September 09, 2010
Image of a window opening to a globe suspended in the blue sky.

In a 2009 blog post that is still well worth reading, David Wiley--a BYU associate professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology and an open education guru of sorts--drew a useful distinction between first generation OpenCourseWare initiatives (the celebrated MIT program that made a raft of university course materials available for free online, for example) and the new school models that he dubbed "OCW 2.0."  In Wiley's characterization, the first generation of OCW projects were typically funded by finite grants, had no design for sustainability, and thus, faced either a perpetual fundraising cycle or an ultimate shelf life.  The defining feature of OCW 2.0, then, would be sustainability.

Nailing down that definition, however, raised as many questions as it answered, and the big one regarding the "how" of sustainability is not likely to admit of any easy answer at all.  According to Wiley, the only real possibility is that OCW 2.0 programs will be structured around distance learning courses offered for university credit, but as my colleague pointed out in this space last week, open enrollment online courses present their own set of difficulties.

Here at UC Berkeley, undergraduate Matt Senate (a mathematics major with a consuming interest in open education and access) is posing a creative response to the OCW sustainability question in the form of a student-initiated course that he hopes will bridge the divide betweend Wiley's 1.0 and 2.0 distinctions.  Formally titled Digital Berkeley: Making Open Educational Resources, Senate's project-based course has a key innovation--providing real incentives (academic credits) for student-led development of OpenCourseWare within the existing framework of the university.

During the fall semester, Digital Berkeley participants will consult with a Berkeley professor or instructor and develop the materials of a course into a legal, usable, and accessible Open Educational Resource for the web.  Each student receives course credit for the project and gains the valuable experience of producing web-based educational material, and each student project, in turn, will be another step in the inexorable march toward a free, open, and self-sustaining repository of Berkeley resources.

That, anyway, is the grand design, but Senate and the course's faculty sponsor, the School of Information's Brian Carver--who admits to being something of a skeptical optimist with regard to open education, are eyeing a short-term goal that will facilitate the long-term plan. Senate intends for the course itself to "connect students to the process of creating OER and thus forge relationships that will help the project grow as a campus-wide service."

The strength and qualiy of those relationships, then, will determine the ultimate success of Digital Berkeley as a lasting, institutional OCW 2.0 program, and those relationships, of course, depend on the support and involvement of the campus community.