Frequently Cited Concerns

Reasonable people will raise legitimate concerns about launching an OpenCourseWare effort. In the list below, we provide a selection of frequently cited concerns, along with some suggestions for how you might respond to them. Ultimately, the benefits of OpenCourseWare far outweigh the concerns, and the OpenCourseWare Consortium is here to help us all work around the obstacles that arise. If you have a concern that you don’t see addressed here, check out the OCWC Forum.

Attendance – “My students won’t come to class if the lectures are online” is the form in which this concern is most often expressed. The goal in responding to this concern is to encourage faculty reflection on effective teaching methods. Putting lectures online enables faculty to treat the lectures as part of a student’s preparation for class. This allows students to spend in-class time actively engaging the course content. If faculty explain this at the beginning of the academic term, students will come to class.

Cost – There are ways to build an OCW project to fit budgets of many sizes. Much depends on the number of courses an institution intends to publish at what rate, what pre-existing resources can be shared with the OCW project, and how (and by whom) the flow of work is directed. In thinking about the cost of OCW, however, it is important not to lose sight of the institutional benefits and OCW project attracts. Acquiring many of these benefits by means other than OCW would require a similar, and often greater, investment of time, money and effort.

Drain on Faculty Time – While it is not unheard of for faculty to prepare their own courses for OCW publication, projects generally employ staff or students to vet materials for Intellectual Property issues and to format them for online use. This leaves the faculty member in the role of consultant: answering questions and reviewing the prepared course prior to publication. OCW processes may inspire faculty to spend more time improving their courses. Such improvements are part of a faculty member’s teaching responsibilities, however, and thus should count as a benefit of OCW rather than a burden.

Erosion of Distance Education Revenue – Institutions with Distance Learning Programs often are justly concerned that providing free versions of their courses online will discourage students from enrolling for credit. What we have found, however, is that OCW sites provide students with an important pathway into for-credit coursework

Faculty Resistance to Sharing – Often, faculty members and academic leaders regard their primary course materials as the “crown jewels” of the instructional program – the essence of what they offer to students, the products that generate tuition revenues, and the substance of what they publish in textbooks. Having a core group of supportive faculty can go a long way towards demonstrating to the reluctant that the value of course materials actually increases as those materials are given away.

Intellectual Property – Addressing Intellectual Policy issues is complicated, but it often is more a matter of good record keeping than anything, and a number of tools are in development to help streamline the process. Many more people are willing to share their third-party content than might be apparent at first, and many are thrilled to get the exposure.

Undermining Potential Publication for Profit – Most faculty are realistic about their likelihood of making much in the way of royalties from their published works. That being said, as long as for-profit publication remains a significant part of the tenure and promotion process, faculty will be concerned about undermining their efforts to secure such publication. Fortunately there is evidence that OCW publication in fact promotes the sale of related faculty publications, as it both widens the market for those publications, increases name recognition and demonstrates uses to which those publications might be put in the classroom.