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Open Education: NYU's Pilot Project Continues

April 27, 2010

As one of the first institutions of higher learning to explore the concepts of "open education" and "open content," the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) introduced its OpenCourseWare (OCW) pilot initiative in 2002 with 50 courses. This initiative has shown annual growth, and in 20091 boasted 1,950 courses published, including content such as audio/video, images, and exams (although the MIT initiative is not credit-bearing or degree-granting2). Some course content has even been translated to Spanish, Portuguese, Persian, Thai and Traditional and Simplified Chinese.3

Considered somewhat revolutionary at the time of MIT's initial pilot, the concept of sharing educational resources freely around the world is now much more widely accepted and has been adopted by over 200 higher education institutions worldwide.4 July 2009 saw the announcement by the Obama administration of a program aimed at funding community education through grants awarded to colleges and universities. A subset of these grants is targeted toward the development of online curricula.5 Parallel funding efforts were seen during the same month, with the Andrew W. Mellon and William and Flora Hewlett foundations announcing $1.3 million in grants to the University of California at Berkeley and 12 partner institutions around the world for the development of their Opencast Matterhorn software, which aims to create an open system for the scheduling, capture, and delivery of educational content online.6

The OpenCourseWare Consortium, which includes many international members, and of which MIT is one of 21 U.S. member institutions,7 defines an OCW project as characterized by (1) free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organized as courses, that are (2) available for use and adaptation under an open license, and (3) do not typically provide certification or access to instructors.8

According to the 2010 Horizon Report, a well-respected publication of the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, the open content movement "reflects a growing shift in the way academics in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed in their courses." The report, which focuses on identifying emerging technologies that are "likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry on college and university campuses within the next five years," predicts that open content will begin to become mainstream on campuses within the next year.10

Like other higher education institutions, NYU has been examining the potential of sharing course lectures online, for free, with the world. The University's Open Education pilot project began in fall 2009 as a funded initiative by the Office of the Provost, led by the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) Dean for Social Sciences Dalton Conley, and supported by Information Technology Services (ITS). That fall, four FAS courses were recorded using Echo 360 classroom recording technology and the internal sharing of this content via NYU Blackboard for feedback from the students within these courses and the recorded faculty. Spring 2010 has seen the recording of six FAS courses, including one from Courant, using a variety of technologies, including recordings produced via ProfCast and NYU TV & Media Center, as well as Echo 360. (See Open Education Recordings at NYU, below, for more details on these recording technologies.) The pilot continues in its exploratory phase through the summer 2010 semester, with the aim of publishing the first round of open content online for fall 2010 and strong hopes of going full scale in future years. (See Future Work, at the end of this article, for further information.)

Plans for open education at NYU

The notion of "open content as social responsibility" is a common theme among universities currently publishing or considering publishing open content. Dean Conley believes that not only is this initiative key to NYU's standing as a major research university in the coming years but it is also especially important at an institution of higher learning whose motto is "a private university in the public service."11

The initial plans for NYU's Open Education pilot project center around a set of interrelated key areas and objectives as follows:

  • Public Content: With public content as the core objective of the pilot, plans are underway to begin publishing the first round of open content online for fall 2010.
  • Student Interaction with Content: Longer term, the project aims to enable the use of tools for online discussion, annotation, bookmarking, and other capabilities that can add to the effectiveness of students' online experience. These new forms of student participation –which would be accompanied by face-to-face classes, interaction, and mentoring– could eventually be included in a student's grades in particular courses.
  • Reuse of Content: In accordance with NYU's objective to create a truly "global network university," the number of NYU's global sites has more than doubled in the past five years, and it is predicted that by 2012, more than half of the University's undergraduate students will have spent at least one semester abroad during their four years of study.12 Recordings of high-quality lectures given by NYU faculty could provide new opportunities for reuse of this content, for example by assigning the recordings of introductory lectures to new students for review prior to the first class meeting, regardless of location. This reuse of content could also help to free up class time, as regular content could be provided online, leaving more time for increased student participation in face-to-face class time, discussion of topics, group work, and problem solving. Such activities are often found in courses that take a student-centered learning and/or active learning approach, approaches that initial research has shown to increase engagement, understanding of the content, and motivation among students.13
  • NYU Outreach: One additional objective of the project is to enhance the exposure of the great scholarship at NYU to the world. A recent survey of incoming freshmen conducted by MIT found that "35 percent of MIT freshmen who knew about the OpenCourseWare initiative reported that availability of the materials significantly influenced their decision to attend the institution."14 Furthermore, a clear spike in the viewing numbers for MIT OpenCourseWare content has been noted in September and February, when students are considering which courses they would like to take in the coming semester.

In his recent research article for Educause, "Capturing Lectures: No Brainer or Sticky Wicket?",15 Joshua Kim writes, "The choice is not whether faculty will publish their lectures online for the world to see but whether this activity will be supported, managed, branded, and leveraged by the institution."

While the more common route for many NYU faculty members has been to record their lectures and make them available to their students via NYU Blackboard, increasing numbers of faculty are posting their class recordings to their personal websites or to NYU's iTunes U or YouTube channels, the latter with the aid of NYU's Office of Public Affairs. Public Affairs has an open call for any content academic in nature (i.e., not a purely promotional commercial) from any NYU department wishing to make its content available online.

Open education recordings at NYU

The NYU Open Education pilot is currently experimenting with three methods of recording classroom lectures.

  • NYU Television and Media, which employs a classroom-based manually operated recording system that captures the faculty member's image and voice as well as the material he or she is projecting in the classroom.
  • Echo 360, a classroom-based recording system that automatically starts and stops the capture of the faculty member's image and voice as well as the material he or she is projecting in the classroom.
  • ProfCast, a laptop-based, manually operated recording system that captures the faculty member's audio as well as the PowerPoint or Keynote presentation he or she is projecting or any screenshots captured during the class.

At the end of the current semester, the project team plans to compare and evaluate these recording systems as they relate to faculty members' varied teaching styles, as well as feedback from faculty and students, and will use this comparison as a foundation for future plans. During the remainder of the spring and the summer 2010 semester, the team will be focusing on issues surrounding copyright, intellectual property, FERPA, etc., to guide future recordings. Such topics are at the heart of many discussions at institutions that are considering embarking on Open Education, and were highlighted in the 2010 Horizon Report cited earlier in this article. To help guide such discussions, the report acknowledges that "solid work has been done by groups such as Creative Commons, the Academic Commons, Science Commons, and others to address many of the concerns commonly voiced." 16

During the summer semester, the team will also focus on establishing workflows for use in the future, from recording to publishing, and on editing content in preparation for going live in fall 2010. Consideration will be given to NYU joining the OpenCourseWare Consortium and the establishment of Creative Commons licenses to guide future work.

Future work

As outlined above in Plans for Open Education at NYU, the long-term goals for this pilot include establishing models for reuse of the content and enabling student interaction with it. In the near term, however, the project team would like to identify members of the larger NYU community who are currently recording their own course content and wish to be involved in our pilot, in order to expand participation to all NYU Schools that are interested.

How can I get involved?

Faculty members should look for an email from the Office of the Provost containing a link to our survey on this topic sometime later this spring. In the meantime if you would like to contact the NYU Open Education pilot, please send an email to

For an overview of podcasting and the resources available at NYU, see Anytime, Anywhere: How Video & Audio Podcasts Can Benefit Teaching & Learning, by Paul Galando, from the Fall/Winter 2009 Connect. To read about how NYU Dental is using podcasting, read iTunesU @ the NYU College of Dentistry, by Elise Eisenberg, in the Spring/Summer 2009 Connect.



  1. OpenCourseWare history.
  2. OpenCourseWare information.
  3. OpenCourseWare translated courses.
  4. James, Kate. "Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds." NERCOMP conference presentation, October 22, 2009.
  5. Johnston, Nicholas. "Obama to Propose $12 Billion in New Community College Spending." July 14, 2009.
  6. Opencast Matterhorn Project Awarded Funding from Mellon and Hewlett Foundation.
  7. OCW Consortium Members.
  8. OCW Consortium FAQ.
  9. New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2010 Horizon Report.
  10. NYU’s Motto.
  11. NYU’s Framework 2031.
  12. Video Education America. "Student-Centered Learning" (program support notes).
  13. Miyagawa, Shigeru. "OpenCourseWare at MIT and Beyond." Dartmouth College lecture, November 7, 2008.
  14. Kim, Joshua. “Capturing Lectures: No Brainer or Sticky Wicket?” Research Bulletin, Issue 24, 2009. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, Boulder, CO.
  15. New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2010 Horizon Report.



Lillian Moran is a Faculty Technology Specialist within ITS Faculty Technology Services.

This Article is in the following Topics:
Connect - Information Technology at NYU, Teaching and Learning

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Open Education: NYU's pilot project continues

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