Penn and Academic Earth part of open source education movement

Two giants in higher education’s growing open source movement seem to be circling. At the end of January, the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies opened its Open Learning Commons, just about when Academic Earth launched itself. Academic Earth, of course, is the growing aggregator of academic lectures that is creating a […]

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Two giants in higher education’s growing open source movement seem to be circling.
At the end of January, the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies opened its Open Learning Commons, just about when Academic Earth launched itself.
Academic Earth, of course, is the growing aggregator of academic lectures that is creating a controversial stir in higher education. A stir not chronicled in write ups by Slate or Likehacker or by TechCrunch, though I mentioned it in this week’s Philadelphia Weekly.
“A lot of universities were excited at first [by Academic Earth], but now take issue with a for-profit.” said Jennifer Maden a Penn program implementation manager. “It’s going to depend on the licensing.”
That might get dicey because Richard Ludlow, CEO and founder of Academic Earth has suggested his hopes to enter into the college-heavy Philadelphia market.
“Penn is obviously an elite university and so a natural fit for us,” Ludlow said in a phone interview, noting that currently his site features lectures from the highest profile Ivy League schools. “Penn is trying to be really creative with open source education, to push the envelope. They’re trying to take advantage of more than just delivering their content but reaching a level of interaction no one is.”
Understand: this is a movement.
Higher education institutions everywhere are seeking a level of open community interaction, facing the similar quandaries on what should be free and what shouldn’t be. (YouTube launched this week its own online video lecture series).
Penn’s plan, which Ludlow says is a national leader in its interest in online, academic social networking, has three tiers: one for tuitioned students, one for paid members and a third for anyone, free of charge.
Like other leading universities, beyond syllabi and course documents, Penn is including lecture videos, which has become Academic Earth’s early bread and butter.
Below see the introduction to Penn’s prototype course.
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Using creative common licenses, Ludlow says his site can legally take university content and aggregate it. They aren’t advertising on that university content, but plan to rather use their content as a driving-force for traffic and then hope to monetize other sections of the site, including paid-for research and related materials.
Other Ivies are doing similarly, like MIT’s OpenCourseWare or Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere. Video and audio is playing an increasingly large role, a role Academic Earth would like to help promote. Students who listened to podcasted lectures on Apple’s new iTunes University did better in class than those who went to the lecture in person, according to a study by Dani McKinney, a psychologist at the State University of New York in Fredonia.
“It’s the idea that giving someone just the information is useful, but the Internet provides potential to do so much with community interaction through things like wikis and more,” Ludlow said of this movement. He said Academic Earth can be a driving force behind the expansion and growth of participation.
Unsurprisingly, opinions vary. A story last month by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed a certain openness by MIT but far harsher sense by Yale, Ludlow’s alma mater.
“We think once we sit down and talk to them, they’re generally comfortable with what we’re doing,” Ludlow said. He cited those representatives of MIT, who expressed concern over attribution and functionality but have since become supporters after those changes were implemented.
He hasn’t sat down with Penn representatives yet, but Ludlow argues Academic Earth offers the chance for universities like Penn to share their content with a broader audience without needing to develop the technology or interactive tools. Ludlow also says there is the possibility of revenue-sharing with participating schools.
“Look at us now, we’re just aggregating. What Penn wants to do, well, that’s similar to what we want to be able to do: building a learning community around interaction tools,” Ludlow said. His site’s revenue model will let them do so more efficiently than if each university tried to do it on their own, he said.
Academic Earth found great success in its recent roll out of a mechanism allowing viewers to rate content. In the next few months, they’ll be adding forums for questions and answers, with plans of other interactivity to come online.
By some accounts, Penn is ahead of their game – except in viewership.
To be fair, Penn’s program launched in January and has since had no outside promotion, aside from today’s Philadelphia Weekly feature and this Technically Philly story. But still, its less than 250 members who have created profiles have helped bring in about 1,800 absolute unique visitors.
In February, Academic Earth’s first full month of operation, it brought in more than 200,000 unique views, Ludlow said. Different metrics, but clearly more eyeballs.
Ludlow said he hopes Penn and Academic Earth can reach an understanding.
“People all over the country and all over the world can get a Penn education or have access to other institutions like it,” Ludlow said. “It’s been impossible to deliver that. Using the Internet, we can give people a piece of the interaction from Penn’s campus. I feel fortunate to be able to pass on that potential.”

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