In the chapter on “The Public Engagement as Collateral Damage” in Martin Weller‘s The Digital Scholar he talks about the fact that traffic to user-generated content on commercial sites is far greater than free, open content on higher education sites:
In terms of traffic to sites, the user-generated content sites have impressive statistics: more than 100 million monthly for YouTube, 4.3 million for Scribd and 1.75 million for Slideshare (figures from http://www.compete.com for July 2010). These dwarf the statistics for most higher education projects; for instance the most well-established OER site, MIT’s OpenCourseWare site (http://ocw.mit.edu), has 200,000 visitors monthly, the OU’s OpenLearn 21,000 and the learning object repository MERLOT 17,000.
The argument being if you use commercial, user-generated sites like YouTube, SlideShare, Scribd, etc., the potential for your work to reach a wider audience is much greater. This is an idea I agree with (and have personally experienced through YouTube), but at the same time the lifespan of these sites is another question, one which D’Arcy Norman has been writing about intelligently since Posterous announced they are closing this April.
Even more problematic for me (again based on personal experience), is the fact that colleges and universities leave questions of fair use and copyright arbitration up to third party sites like YouTube when it comes to faculty and students critically examining media and sharing resources—something that remains an essential role of the academy. So, when I saw the numbers of higher ed sites like MIT’s Opencourseware, OpenLearn, and MERLOT I got to thinking that UMW Blogs has comparable stats to all of them on a monthly basis. Just this month we had 243,086 visits (177,069 of which were unique) and 478,462 pageviews. That’s coming out of a small, fairly obscure liberal arts college that is embracing the digital, networked, and open philosophy espoused in Weller’s book.
It got me thinking what institutions could do if they started approaching academic publishing platforms as collaborative, open spaces for user-generated content. What if educational institutions start reclaiming the web? If little Mary Washington can generate this kind of traffic, which is not that much less then SlideShare in the end, then what could all the public (and private for that matter) universities in Virginia do working together? I wonder if we might be approaching a moment where the vision of the digital, open, and connected Weller talks about can be supported and encouraged by educational institutions as a way of becoming hubs of open content.
What’s more, as we encourage faculty and students to take ownership of theses spaces and move away from share cropping on third party sites (a là Domain of One’s Own)—-universities should be managing sophisticated syndication networks that enable individuals to manage and control their own work but aggregates it intelligently for better search engine optimization, generative juxtaposition of content, and intelligent filtering and relational organization via tags. We have only just begun to explore the possibilities of what it would mean for institutions to own these resources and share them through free and open platforms! I AM SO FRIGGIN’ EXCITED!!!
But wait …. the rise of the corporate MOOC has rendered these pursuits passè—any sense of innovation around publishing on the web has gotten lost in the hype, and elite universities are dumping their content into an LMS on steroids in a vain pursuit for raw numbers that is anything but open. A deal with the devil, BlackBoard all over again. Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!
All that said, I remain encouraged by Stephen Downes’s assessment of a million flowers blooming in the wake of this wave of elite university MOOC madness, I’m all for optimism these days. And the fact that the MOOC crash will have served to establish open, online learning as a reality that is fundamental to every educational institution’s mission from here on out might very well be the case. And if so, the approach outlined above is just a damn good head start 😉