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Saylor Foundation model

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    What would work in my (blended learning in a Russell group university) context?

    -Remixing/”curating” (as the Saylor video refers to it) OERs within course structure

    -Using mixed modes to enrich learning experience

    -Tutor as facilitator, signposting and structuring resources

    -Peer review of designs etc – already happens to some extent but probably room for more of this from an edtech/pedagogy and content viewpoint (Saylor peer review focus is on content)

    -Use of technology for tracking progress via eportfolio- again, to some extent happens already but integration of this system with transcript would be powerful


    -Very passive, content delivery approach.  Little evidence of innovative pedagogies

    -No peer or tutor support – would not work in my context, and students deserve both (plus carefully designed courses from a content and pedagogical point of view) for the fees they are paying!

    -No assessment or opportunity to formally monitor progress – some learners may be incredibly motivated and not need this, but I think they are in the minority.  Combination of lack of this plus support could be quite damaging I think, and may turn them off learning in general

    Sue Barnes

    I agree with the challenges you list and think that all these elements add up to a lack in motivating the participants to continue. MIght there be a way of blending the Saylor approach with elements that keep participants involved and provide a vehicle for social interaction and peer support?


    Yes I agree – the Saylor model seems very content driven and there is little opportunity for student-teacher or student-student interaction.

    Philosophically I really like the concept of OER but I do wonder why people might choose to do these courses, given they are not accredited?  Students can sit an exam and get a certificate of participation but is this what students want, and will it help them to achieve their goals I wonder?

    At the beginning of the video the presenter makes the claim that it is now cheaper to provide electronic books rather than paper books around the world.  I wonder if this is actually the case if one takes into account the cost of infrastructure required for internet access.  (I know in Australia our government is currently spending $43 billion (AUD) on a national broadband network – that’s a pretty high cost.)

    David Jennings

    Maybe try another way of looking at it, picking up on Sue’s suggestion of blending Saylor with other elements and approaches? One thing OERs do is separate the content elements from the delivery (and learner support, and accreditation) to some extent. This then creates possibilities for the different elements to be recombined in new ways, of which Saylor is only one example (and maybe not a comprehensive ‘full service’ one).

    Are there ways in which you could break down your teaching practice into elements and explore new ways of recombining them (possibly mixing them with other elements drawn in from other spheres)? What enhancements might that provide? And whose interests would it serve, in the long run?


    I’m not sure that the Saylor Foundation is particularly relevant to what we do in universities. Or if it is, only in the same way that the opening of a new library might be relevant.

    At best, if you’re lucky, you might find a nice set of already curated materials related to something you are teaching. I think, as an educator, you’d probably still need to cast a critical eye over the materials, but the site might provide a shortcut to finding some good resources. You could then link to the materials as extra support for what you’re teaching, although I don’t think that this would form the main content of your course, and students would probably feel aggrieved if it did. Basically, as a source of OER the Saylor Foundation could be useful, but once you start talking about courses I think it becomes less relevant.

    Some of the issues I have with the Saylor Foundation:

    Who is the audience for all this material? Essentially these courses are being designed with no knowledge of who they are for.
    There is very little scaffolding of the content. For example, instructions are frequently along the lines of –  ‘read the entirety of this webpage’ – then what? What activities and processes should I engage in after I’ve read this page?
    I see these as courses for hobbyists, people interested in a subject who don’t need to get accreditation or who have already got the qualifications they need. In my experience, students on degree programmes at universities tend to have a fairly instrumentalist approach to study – they are doing it in order to achieve something specific, a recognised qualification which will lead into a good career.
    The goal of the Saylor Foundation is to make education free to all, which begs the question….what is education according to Michael Saylor? Did he or anybody he knows, get their education entirely from looking at websites? Or did he go to school? Then university? Education and content are not the same thing.

    * some of these issues also apply in the case of xMOOCs in my opinion

    David Jennings

    Fair points, Jim, and I’m sure many would take a similar position.

    If Saylor is not particularly relevant to what we do in universities, then why do you think people who work in universities are working for Saylor? Their employment page says

    The Saylor Foundation relies heavily on members of the academic community in order to fulfill its mission. We are always in search of progressive-thinking deans, professors, assistant professors, instructors, teaching assistants, and students of varying levels of education (from high school level interns to graduate students) willing to share the breadth of their knowledge and expertise in order to make the Free Education Initiative a success.

    Is it just that “progressive-thinking” here means “wrong thinking” or is there something more complex going on?


    Hi David,

    I guess my comments are related to my own teaching context. I have no doubt that there is a lot of merit to what Saylor Foundation and the likes of Coursera and Udacity are doing, but I’d really like to see some concrete data on who is taking their courses, what they’re gaining from them, where they are and so on. (I’ve seen the completion rates research from Katy Jordan and the breakdowns of where people are taking the courses but these, while useful, don’t paint a very complete picture in my view).

    If these xMOOCs etc are promising free education for all then they are, essentially, offering an alternative to university (without, as yet, any means of accreditation). Their courses seem to be for people who, for one reason or another, cannot attend university. That’s great, but also means it won’t necessarily have such an impact on those students who are attending university. The impact may be more a question of how universities respond to the threat/challenge of these free education providers (depending of course on what you consider to be education).

    What I do know is that if students coming to my institution were told that the content of their course would involve following a free online course provided by a random group of professors in the States, they’d probably question why they’d paid such high fees… In my view, ‘progressive-thinking deans, professors etc.’ should be willing to explore new models of education and be aware of the huge changes and challenges that we currently face, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to sign up for one particular individual’s view of what constitutes ‘free education’. If professors/teachers want to find ways to make  their expertise more widely available through organisations like the SF that’s great – I’m sure they do it for many reasons – a genuine wish to make knowledge more accessible, professional / career development etc. – but perhaps we need more information about their impact before we get too excited…

    Having said that, if I’m able to find reliable resources more easily which can be used to support my teaching then I have no problem with using them (as long as that’s not all I’m offering).

    * apologies for the rambling…. 😉

    David Jennings

    Hi again, Jim, on the “concrete data on who is taking their courses” question, I’m sure you’re right that the majority are not substituting for ‘regular’ higher education (though there is that marginal group who a decade ago might have gone into HE, but are now discouraged by the costs and may be interested in a halfway house). In this sense the likes of Saylor fit into the Informal side of the table I quoted in my blog post.

    More generally you could see the whole MOOC/Saylor/etc cluster as another example of the variegation of HE’s ‘regular’ offering i.e. so it’s not just the three-year, full-time, 18-21, for-credit experience, but that each of those hyphenated adjectives are open to change  – more mature, part-time, informal learning experiences. Which in itself seems not a bad thing? Though it may challenge some of the institutional habits that have become engrained?

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