Permalink for this paragraph 0 To inform this report, we conducted a survey of chief information officers from NITLE member colleges. With this survey, we aimed to develop an understanding of ongoing developments in and attitudes toward open education at liberal arts colleges. Originally the survey was sent to chief information officers at forty-seven NITLE member schools, but we also invited these recipients to forward the survey to appropriate faculty or staff contacts at their institutions. Ultimately 32 started the survey and 23 completed it by March 14, 2012, for a completion rate of 71.9%. The survey adopted a broad definition of open education, which may have made it difficult for some respondents to generalize about the status of open education at their institutions. Of the 21 respondents who defined their institutional role on campus, 47.6%(10) are the CIO of a non-merged organization, 23.8% (5) were the CIO of a merged organization, 19% (4) are an academic computing leader, and 4% (1) are the library director, an IT manager, or a faculty member. 83.6% represented schools with between 1001 and 3000 students, while 17.3% came from schools with more than 3000 students.
7.1 Levels of Engagement with Open Education
Permalink for this paragraph 0 It seems that most liberal arts colleges are engaged in open education in limited ways, if at all. Most survey respondents said their colleges was doing “nothing at present” (30.4%) or studying potential approaches (30.4%), while others were running a departmental pilot (13%) or campus pilot (8.7%) or offering a “campus-wide program or service” (17.4%). Speaking generally of faculty attitudes at their institutions, the greatest number of respondents said faculty were “interested but not committed” (50%) or “not convinced that quality open educational resources are available” (45.5.%), while 4.5% (1 respondent) said faculty were “Not aware of open education.” These numbers suggest that there is potential interest in OER, but that there is a need for more quality resources relevant to the liberal arts curriculum, that these resources should be more easily discoverable, and that faculty may need to be convinced that they are sufficient quality. For example, in conducting a through search for OER to support some of its courses (in STEM and social sciences), Bryn Mawr encountered some significant gaps, so they had to create some materials themselves.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Relatively few faculty members are either using or producing OER. Among those colleges that have open education initiatives, 56.3% of respondents described the proportion of faculty consuming OER to be 1-10%, while 81.3% said only 1-10% of faculty members were producing open content. Likewise, most of these colleges do not have institutional initiatives to produce open educational resources. While 31.3% are producing “open learning objects such as exercises and animations” in a piecemeal way, most are not producing open curriculum, and only 25% are producing open textbooks in a piecemeal way or piloting in a few departments. Tracking the production of open content across campus itself seems to be a challenge: 25.0% (4) didn’t know to what extent their institution was producing open textbooks, and 18.8% (3) didn’t know about the production of open learning objects.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 More colleges seem to be involved or least considering getting involved in producing open learning tools than open curriculum or open textbooks, perhaps indicating growing use of Moodle and WordPress across liberal education. That trend may also reflect the nature of decision-making at many colleges, where IT departments make campus-wide decisions about software systems (in consultation with users), while individual faculty members select course materials. While 6.3% (1) of survey respondents are implementing the production of open source tools for teaching and learning across campus, 18.8% (3) are producing them in a piecemeal way, 6.3% (1) are piloting in a few departments, and 18.8% (3) are considering producing open tools. Among the software tools developed by liberal arts colleges is Eckerd College’s IPAL (“In-class Polling for All Learners”) software. Customizing or extending existing open source software such as WordPress or Moodle may be more common at liberal arts colleges than developing new learning software. For example, NERCOMP recently held a conference focused on the use of WordPress at liberal arts colleges featuring presenters from Vassar College, Wesleyan University, The College of Wooster, Bentley University, Middlebury College, Wheaton College (MA), Emerson College, and more. The Tri-Co consortium (Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, and Haverford Colleges) recently moved from Blackboard to Moodle to cut costs, saving the consortium around $100,000 per year. Of course, the choice of software has an impact on teaching and learning; for example, some open source systems may encourage greater sharing. As Jennifer Spohrer noted on our survey, “Moodle has a much wider culture of sharing materials, however, and a few instructors are starting to get interested in this aspect.” Yet implementing open source software comes with its own costs and challenges, particularly in support. As one respondent noted, “On the one hand, gaining access to resources without significant licensing costs will be a big impact, but if those resources will require some type of technical expertise on campus to maintain that is not already there, that will be a significant challenge.”
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Among those institutions with some engagement in open education, reasons for pursuing open education varied. The reasons most frequently cited as being important or very important included fostering pedagogical innovation at 62.5% (10 respondents), providing more learning opportunities for students at 56.3% (9), and lowering costs at 46.7% (7). On the flip side, reasons most frequently cited as being “not at all important” were strengthening the campus community with 53.3% of respondents (8); reaching a larger community beyond the campus with 46.7% (7); and meeting ethical obligations with 46.7% (7). Perhaps not surprisingly, the prime drivers motivating open education initiatives appear to be improving learning and reducing costs. Although 40% said meeting ethical obligations was important or somewhat important in the college pursuing open education (none said it was “very important”), most seem to view it pragmatically, seeing open education as one of many potential approaches. As one respondent noted, “It is not a passion but everything is on the table when faculty, students or staff are looking for the right solution.”
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Of course, colleges face some significant obstacles in implementing open education. Among colleges engaged in some form of activity around open education, respondents identified the following obstacles as being a factor or a key factor: lack of time (68.8%) and perceived lack of quality of open educational resources (53.3%). Conversely, many respondents agreed that the following were either not a factor or a minor factor: “binding contracts with vendors” (80%), “not in the college’s strategic interest” (66.7%), “lack of student support” (66.7%), “too complex technically” (60%), or “lack of appropriate institutional policy” (66.6%) and “lack of administrative support” (60%). Lack of faculty support seems to be an issue, with 40.0% reporting that it was somewhat of a factor, 20% identifying it as a factor, and 26.7% saying it was a key factor.
7.2 Supporting Open Education
Permalink for this paragraph 0 At institutions with some engagement in open education, respondents identified a range of groups and individuals that are involved in campus efforts, particularly individual faculty (87.5%), Academic Computing/IT (81.3%), and the library (75.0%). At some campuses, academic departments (37.5%), the Academic dean or provost (31.3%), students (31.3%), or the teaching and learning center (25%) play a role. In terms of how colleges are providing support for open education, the most common answers included “providing technical support to faculty” (75.0%), “helping faculty to identify relevant open resources” (62.5%), “providing high-level administrative support” (43.8%) and “providing technical support to students” (43.8%). Few reported “collaborating with other colleges to produce open resources” (18.8%), “developing open tools and resources locally” (18.8%), “sending representatives to meetings about open education” (25%), or “joining organizations such as the Open Courseware Consortium” (0%). Although most respondents skipped our question about how they implemented an open education program, pilots emerged as an important strategy among those who did respond.
7.3 Reasons for Not Pursuing Open Education
Permalink for this paragraph 0 For the 30.4% (7) of our respondents who said that their institutions were not currently engaged with open education, we asked a more targeted set of follow-up questions. The top reason that their colleges had not pursued open education was “my institution does not see open education as being in its strategic interest” (66.7%). According to this group, the most powerful way to boost open education on campus was “demand from faculty” (83.3%), followed by grant funding in support of open education (50%).
7.4 Impact of Open Education, Current and Future
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Of those who said their college was currently involved with open education, most agreed that the impact on their campus has been limited to date: “minor,” “spotty,” “nil,” “It is too soon to say.” In terms of potential impact of open education, some respondents said they were unsure, but others predicted that it could lower costs. Two respondents indicated that they were trying to raise awareness of open education on campus through presentations. As one noted, “I will continue to push this dialog as I think it is an important piece to be considering as we move forward.” In contrast, one respondent was particularly skeptical of the open education “movement,” suggesting that it is “just a marketing tool for the zealots to capitalize on the good work done by the open source community.”
Permalink for this paragraph 0 In looking forward 5-7 years, 52.1% of all respondents saw “open source Learning Management Systems such as Moodle or Sakai” as having a significant or high impact, and 47.8% pointed to “using open source blogging platforms such as WordPress.” Among the liberal arts community, it seems that open source software has gained more traction than open content or courses, although these responses may reflect the fact that most of our respondents are involved with IT organizations. Opinion was mixed about the impact of “open courses + certification, such as MITx”: 8.7% said it would have high impact, 17.4% said it would have significant impact, 21.7% some impact, 17.4% slight impact, 21.7% no impact, and 13% didn’t know. Similarly, 27.3% saw “open courses such as Stanford’s open courses” as having a significant impact, 27.3% some impact, 22.7% slight impact, 9.1% no impact, and 13.6% didn’t know. “Some impact” was the most popular answer for open textbooks (52.2%), engaging students in producing open content (47.8%), open learning objects such as exercises and animations (39.1%), and interactive open learning platforms such as Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (30.4%).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Among all the respondents, there was little consensus about the impact open initiatives such as MITx will have on liberal arts colleges. 38.1% said “they will extend educational opportunities to those outside the traditional education system.” 19% responded that “they will have little impact,” and the same number indicated that “they will allow liberal arts colleges to expand their course offerings.” 14.3% said “they will enable liberal arts colleges to develop new business models,” while 9.5% said “they will directly compete with liberal arts colleges.” These numbers suggest that it is too early predict the impact, but most do not see a direct threat to liberal arts colleges. As one interviewee suggested, most 18-22 year olds need the structure, community, and support provided by higher education; indeed, liberal arts colleges define their value largely by enabling students to interact with faculty. Even though most respondents didn’t see initiatives such as MITx having an immediate impact, some are examining the long-term implications of these developments. As Jennifer Spohrer noted in her survey response, “Concerning MITx: currently there is no demand from students to provide credit for something like this. (The programs aren’t really there yet.) However, the administration is actively thinking forward about the role a liberal arts college might play in a world where such credits were more widely available. Most colleges already accept credit for courses taken off campus under circumstances (ex., AP, IB, study abroad, transfer credit), so it is conceivable that this will someday be another one of those circumstances.” In addition, one respondent said that a student at his or her college took Stanford’s Machine Learning MOOC in the fall of 2011 as an independent study, perhaps indicating an emerging trend.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 In free text comments speculating on the significance of open education for liberal arts colleges, respondents suggested that it could improve pedagogy and lower costs, but that it could also lead to threats. One respondent indicated that open education is not likely to have a significant impact on selective colleges. Another respondent suggested that open education would expand availability of educational resources, but also open up “[q]uestions of content ownership and IP.” Although the impact of open education at LACs has as of yet been limited, one respondent believes that open education poses significant questions for liberal arts colleges: “It is early days in this latest set of concepts (massive open online courses, things like the khan academy, modules like those developed at CMU) but it seems like there is much to be learned about how these might be integrated into our instruction. We also need to think through whether or not we want to get involved on the production side of the equation.” Another respondent thought that open education could enable liberal arts colleges to extend course offerings and experiment with new pedagogical approaches: “1) Increased access to speciality [sic] courses 2) Greater ability to flip content of courses 3) Reduce stress on remedial intro courses by having students refresh in online content.” Likewise, a respondent saw open education “[l]ower[ing] cost and improv[ing] quality. It may also force some schools out of existence.” Some saw open education sparking opportunities for liberal arts colleges. Referring to the approximately 140,000 people who did not complete Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC vs. the approximately 23,000 who did, a respondent noted the value add offered by liberal arts colleges: “We don’t sell the content, we sell access to people who can understand and contextualize it and give you a support network so that you’re not in the 85% who can’t manage to complete it on your own.” In an environment of open content, then, liberal arts colleges may be able to distinguish themselves by emphasizing the value of human interaction and support. One respondent even saw open education as offering “A sustainable way forward given the trends in economy and perceptions of value of liberal arts education.” Yet we also heard from skeptics, including one who indicated that open education “will waste time and create a barrier for communication and collaboration.”
Permalink for this paragraph 0 As for how an organization like NITLE can help support liberal arts colleges in exploring open education, 72.7% of all respondents said “raise awareness of open education”; other answers selected by 50-60% of respondents included “help secure funding for open education initiatives,” “provide strategic guidance on how liberal arts colleges should approach open education,” “support inter-institutional collaboration,” “help colleges find and evaluate open educational resources,” and “connect campuses to thought leaders in open education.” These responses indicate that liberal arts colleges see a role for organizations to play in studying, promoting, and helping to curate open educational resources and tools. However, few see a need for NITLE or similar organizations to play a role in helping to coordinate the production of open source software, with only 27.3% selecting that choice. Another potential role for an organization—unfortunately, not represented on the survey—would be to aid in evaluating the impact of open education at liberal arts campuses. Five of the eight respondents to our question about how campuses are evaluating the impact of open education on campus said they weren’t, but one is conducting “[a]ttitudinal surveys,” one is running surveys about Moodle, and one is evaluating “course by course.”
Permalink for this paragraph 0  In reporting on the results, we included only the 23 responses defined by SurveyMonkey as completed; even these respondents did not necessarily answer every question.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  “Eckerd College Awarded $184,000 Next Generation Learning Challenges Grant for In-Class Polling Project,” Eckerd College, April 7, 2011, http://www.eckerd.edu/news/index.php?f=detail&id=3081.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  “WordPress in the Liberal Arts,” NERCOMP, September 15, 2011, http://www.nercomp.org/index.php?section=events&evtid=56.
Permalink for this paragraph 0  Menghan Jin, “College to Transition to Moodle by Fall 2012,” The Phoenix, August 26, 2010, http://www.swarthmorephoenix.com/2010/08/26/news/college-to-transition–to-moodle-by-fall-2012/print.