Interview with OCW Treasurer Gary Matkin Part 1

We are excited to bring to you an interview with OpenCourseWare Consortium treasurer Gary Matkin. Gary has been the Dean of Continuing Education at UC Irvine since 2001 and serves on the UC Statewide Committee on Copyright and Technology Transfer. Currently, he is a treasurer for the Open Courseware Consortium.

Gary W. Matkin, Ph.D.

1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

I began my career in university continuing education at the University of California, Berkeley University Extension as a business officer and eventually became associate dean. Then in March 2000, I moved to UC Irvine to become dean of Continuing Education. In that role I oversee University Extension, Summer Session, and the UCI Distance Learning Center, which provides centralized services to UCI units interested in offering online programs. With a budget of $24 million, UC Irvine Extension offers 2,400 courses a year to approximately 35,000 students. Summer Session serves 12,000 students with 850 course offerings and a budget of $24 million.

I have served as Principal Investigator of several foundation grants, including grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to advise and support the Foundation’s Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative.

My most recent professional interest is the OpenCourseWare movement. UC Irvine was the first University of California campus and first West Coast University to join the Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC). UCI has published over 50 complete courses on its OCW Web site, available to learners and educators for free, across the world. I have served as treasurer of the OCWC since its formal inception in April 2008.

2. As a grant investigator, what are the most important aspects you look for in an OCW program?

Many educators still think of OCW as what its early proponent, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), produced—online (digital) versions of learning assets designed to support classroom-based undergraduate programs. Although that is certainly one model, it is by no means the only model for OCW. There are many other models, including video captured lectures such as those produced by UC Berkeley and posted online both on a university Web site and on commercial sites such as YouTube and ITunes. Another is the fully developed online course model which is complete with sequenced learning assets linked with a narrative thread. Models also differ in the audiences they serve. Most OCW serve students, educators, and self learners with subjects imbedded in undergraduate degree programs.

So, when I look at OCW examples I try to categorize them as “audience served” and “format used.” The OCW we have produced at UC Irvine utilizes all available models. We began our OCW initiative using the fully developed online course model, but then began evolving our offering using the other models mentioned above. So as not to confuse the fully developed, most elaborate model with less formal models of OCW, we developed an open “course materials” section of our Web site. This avoids the criticism sometimes levied at MIT that their OCW course offerings differ greatly in extent and coverage, from skeletal forms of courses consisting of syllabi and some learning assets to fully elaborated courses containing a great deal of material. When video became readily available in digital form we added video lectures and presentations to our site and, of course, also posted this material on commercial sites like YouTube. Finally, we developed the idea of collections of material around themes such as water management and sustainability—a reorganization of courses, materials, and video around a particular problem.

In addition, we addressed a variety of audiences, not only undergraduate students, educators, or self-learners seeking undergraduate material but also special audiences such as California K-12 teachers seeking to pass the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) required to become a credentialed math or science teacher in California.

The point is that most institutions are rather one-dimensional in their approach to OCW, missing many opportunities to gain benefits from their efforts and to expand their service base at very little cost with huge public recognition.

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3. What have been some of the difficulties in organizing different institutions to use OCW?

The main difficulty universities face in developing OER or OCW Web sites is cost. In an era of shrinking budgets it does not make sense, on the surface, to invest resources in something that is given away for free. In fact, this is often a short sighted view because OCW and OER are services that can be provided at little cost and that can save money in the long run, for students and for many other constituents of the university. For instance, the use of OER and OCW can save students money that would otherwise be spent in the bookstore or on transportation to libraries. Alumni Associations can use OER and OCW as efficient services for their members. And OCW can substantially reduce the effort professors spend in developing new courses. But these cost savings are often not recognized.

The more visible difficulties in developing OCW and OER are faculty resistance coupled with concern over intellectual property issues. Faculty fear that the fruits of their labors will be appropriated by others, depriving them of the value of their own work. In most cases there is no real market for what faculty does in creating learning objects—no one will buy what they produce. However, it is usually the case that, while there is little commercial value in what is produced, there can be a great social value in it. OCW provides the vehicle by which this social value can be quickly and easily (and with little cost) offered to the world. The creation of the Creative Commons license provides a range of protection for learning object authors which can easily and simply be invoked by authors.

While institutions face other difficulties in participating in the OCW and OER movements such as inadequate organizational structures and lack of technical expertise, they all have one thing in common with the two difficulties I have described above, all stemming from a lack of understanding of the mechanisms and benefits of OCW. That is why one of our main goals for OCW at UC Irvine has become the construction of a demonstration Web site for as many of the uses and models for OCW that we can create. We continuously discover more reasons for such a site, often quite unexpected. For instance, since we started the Web site and began publishing our OER and OCW on other sites, the visibility of our material, and the visibility of those who produced the material, has risen dramatically on commercial search engines such as Google. The results of our efforts will pave the way for many other institutions.

This is Part 1 of our interview with Gary. Check back later to see Part 2. You can find more information about the OCW consortium on their website. For more information about online education, see Udemy’s main website.