Open Education at University of California, Irvine, the United States

Gary Matkin

Gary Matkin

Interview with Gary Matkin, Dean of Continuing Education, Distance Learning, and Summer Session University of California, Irvine, the United States   

Interview conducted by: Gema Santos‐Hermosa, PhD researcher and digital librarian. Educational Resources Management, Teaching and Learning Support, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC), Spain

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has a long history in open education. It was involved in OpenCourseWare (OCW) from the beginning and there is a strong institutional commitment. UCI was one of founders of OCW Consortium and, in November 2006, it started its own OCW that today features nearly 90 courses, over 800 video lectures and receives 40,000 visits per month.

One of UCI’s main open initiatives is OpenChem, a selection of chemistry video courses posted first on YouTube and, then, offered through UCI’s OCW project. The University does not currently have a repository, so their OCW site operates as a kind of repository and they also republish open educational resources (OER) in educational repositories such as MERLOT and Connexions or web platforms such as iTunes and YouTube.

UCI also got on the train of massive open online courses (MOOCs) very early. It was one of the first 33 institutions joining Coursera and two of its MOOCs have been selected and endorsed by the American Council of Education (ACE) for academic credit.

UCI also launched a MOOC based on the TV show ‘The Walking Dead’ entitled  “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’”. The eight week course began on October 14th, the day after the Season 4 premiere and has enrolled 60,000 students. According to UCI Dean of Continuing Education, Distance Learning and Summer Session, Dr. Gary Matkin, this MOOC has an interdisciplinary approach and studies different aspects of public health, social science, physics and mathematics. It aims to explore many points of view and covers concepts as varied as post‐disaster nutrition, infectious diseases, human survival, social identities and stereotypes, leadership, etc.

MOOCs are a domain of OCW; indeed, they can be seen to be just a certain variety of OCW. Most MOOCs follow a model, and even if some of the variables are changed, the results will be similar. This has led to the rise of vocabulary and typologies to describe these new MOOCs. For instance, an open online course developed by a company, and not a university is a “commercial” MOOC or a zombie‐based online course with an innovative approach could be deemed an “edutainment” MOOC.

According to Dr. Matkin, they got started with open education because people were interested and there was little to no cost to offer free online courses, so “it naturally happened because we wanted it to happen”. Then MOOCs came along and they were considered another channel to be tried. An important reason that motivates UCI’s involvement with MOOCs is that these new open courses lead faculty to accept the idea of open education in any form. They were more willing to participate than before. “You don’t know what is going to in the future but you know that something is going to happen in your area and you want to get on board ready and positioned to part of it.” Other motivations to continue include realizing that UCI is in the process of helping people to learn and that there are so many possibilities, new ways to learn, and “the more tools we have available to educate people, the better the offer is going to be.”

Therefore, it is necessary to be there to experiment and to determine how to get a better product. “We shouldn’t be producing courses but producing learning”.

Experimenting when new things come along, bringing about a cultural shift in pedagogy and being consistent with tradition (as a research one public university which serves society in the best way possible) are some other leitmotifs for the open initiatives at UCI.

Dr. Matkin also recognizes that, sometimes, they provide some compensation – usually a small amount of money – for faculty and staff to cooperate in developing and sharing open experiences. However, there also exist an opportunity for volunteerism and commitment from its faculty. Dr. Matkin believes the teaching profession is going to expand in direct proportion to the need for more learning in our society and that there are new roles for instructors. “Teachers are going to be ‘learning architects’, who must direct students to the material to learn. If you are a lecturer and that’s the only thing you can do, of course you’d feel a threat from this movement, but since the technology offers data in real time on the learning of individuals, to find which students need more help, that’s how you are going to spend your time and not lecturing people”.

The ways in which open education has impacted institutional practice, reputation and culture at UCI are all in their early stages. Firstly, the publicity received from these open courses has impacted its reputation. “We are a public university so we have the obligation to the public to let them learn even if they are not our students. Free education contributes to their knowledge”. Secondly, there is natural progression. Pedagogy is beginning to change on the UCI campus in some ways. Thirdly, the culture shifts towards the notion of learning as really the product. Finally, there are some other related aspects to take into account, such as the state government pushing online education to reduce costs. There is no state financial support to promote open education, but as some of these online courses are open, there is an indirect effect.

Dr. Matkin describes open education at UCI in terms of 5 concepts: innovation, experimentation, culture shift, excitement, and consistency with tradition. He also predicts a future in which every major university will produce and use more OER than what is currently used. “It is going to happen, nothing is going to stop it. Open education is going to infiltrate itself into the workflow process (the teaching and learning system) and to continue logically and naturally”. Dr. Matkin argues that ten years ago they were not using websites in their courses but now this is easy, quick and with zero cost, so “if I can access one of MIT’s courses in OCW and use it my class, why wouldn’t I do that?” People are slowly starting to understand the value and quality of open material. Eventually, it will be faculty adopting OCW as part of their teaching content in a particular course. “When we start to have a system where the open is easy to find and use, we’ll make a big jump”. Dr. Matkin forecasts that this is going to be the next big step for stimulating use and reuse of OER.

Quoting the words of UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake, the University is “still under construction”. Open education has been around since 2001 at MIT. There were 11 years between 2001 and 2011, but MOOCs have taken over in just one or two. So we don’t know what is going to happen next. As Dr. Matkin says, “the whole notion of ‘open’ is going to disappear because it is part of what we do everyday (as happened with internet some time ago). Like turning on the light, it is just there”.