I did not catch the stream of the ds106 presentation at the CUNY conference by Mikhail Gershovich and Michael Branson-Smith, so I did not hear their response- but Mikhail’s tweet bemused me:

Amusing because who can really say what a University “feels”? Nah. It really shows how thin the understanding is of an open course, in the assumption that the experience of the open participants is the same as the one that students are paying tuition for — a “course is a course of course of course” to misquote Mr Ed.

Yeah, why should some people get for FREE what others are paying for?

Opening your stuff pays back in the long run. That was my lesson first learned in 1994, when I realized a set of tutorials on web page creation I was putting online as a workshop for my local participants, could be useful to other people elsewhere– at no extra effort on my part. An dover the years, people who came across this stuff would contribute back, via suggestions for improvements, translations into other languages– all that pay it forward stuff worked its way back.

In many of the established MOOCs (is it really so? traditional MOOCs?) they seem to try and create a similar experience for all students, with the exception that registered students go through a process of assessment or credit granting.

In ds106, on the other hand, the open part really is not the same, and those who take the open/free route really do not get the full experience of the on the ground students. Outside of a few rabid partcipants (prsent company counted) most of the “free riders” do selective bits of the experience. They dip in and out. They do not absorb anything from the home base beyond a few bits of web page data transmitted.

The on the ground registered students get a lot of extra attention, guidance, mentoring from people like Jim Groom, Martha Burtis, Michael Branson-Smith, Scott Lockman — plus a close community of peers doing the same. The additions of the open participants add even more to the experience, and in fact, the question should be turned around to look at the value of getting free tutoring, advice, suggestions from people not even being paid to help with the class. How about that?

If the “University” were to look closely, they would find the open course a net gain in a richer experience rather then some penny pinching loss of tuition dollars.

It’s not the model for every course, but it’s time to open minds that the students we are ushering through our institutions ought to be prepared for living, working, co-creating in an openly networked world, not a closed box. We ought to be giving them more of these connective experiences.

It is however, difficult point for those who have not had a taste of the experience. But it seems time to be thinking a lot more opening about when we mean by a “course”.

Of course.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by oddsock

I am curious to hear how Mikhail and Michael answered the question….

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. The person who asked this question was likely a student and seemed totally unfamiliar with the concept of open education, including open courseware. She asked it right at the end and I answered re ds106 at UMW it with a version of the argument you make about halfway through re: the different experiences of the matriculated students. I talked to her later a bit and we pretty much agreed that, to put it crudely, the money buys you the credential and that universities like MIT, Yale, Tufts and others that offer free online courses and materials get that.

  2. Alan,

    I really like the way you frame this because the idea of a course is just one way to imagine an experience, and the fact that the UMW students have to take a course but get a dynamic network giving all kinds of encouragement and feedback is a bonus. It makes a UMW student’s experience richer—and while everyone else can do as they want when they want—a UMW student is realizing something about the web that may not have been as apparent within a course/class context. In many ways, for me that’s enough—and the friends and c connections I have made as a result are my bonus and gravy. It’s been amazing, but not as a course but as a new experience for learning within what seem to need to label as a course for those pursuing a degree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *