International award highlights growing OpenCourseWare initiative at Notre Dame

Author: Paul Murphy


A computer applications course on the University’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) website recently was named an inaugural winner of an Award for OCW Excellence by the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

Honored in the Texts and Illustrations category, Applied Multimedia Technology was the only course selected from a field of five entries from the United States. The course aims to use multimedia as a means to communicate information as well as solve problems, teaching users to utilize computer programs such as Adobe Flash to create materials that incorporate text, animation, images, sound and video. Course author Chris Clark, associate director of Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center, aimed to create materials that would be dynamic and practical for users.

The OCW Consortium is a collaboration of higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.

OCW offers users a non-traditional approach to higher education courses. While courses may have their own syllabi, users are not required to register, are able to learn at their own pace, and can complete the entire course or only the specific materials about which they want to learn.

Although OCW courses are not eligible for credit and cannot be applied toward degrees, the actual materials used in the classroom are published online in order to foster the spread of knowledge, eliminating barriers such as geography and economics.

In 2007, less than one year after the first eight courses were published online, Reader’s Digest recognized Notre Dame along with other top universities as one of the leading institutions that published online material or podcasts of class lectures. Less than a year later, the OCW course “Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love,” taught by David O’Connor, an associate professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, was featured in O Magazine.

Notre Dame was originally approached by the OCW Consortium, of which it is a member, to spearhead courses that featured the understanding of the spiritual and moral aspects of life, as well as the human condition and the search for meaning and conflict resolution. Since then, the University has expanded its course offerings to more than 30 categories, ranging from Thermodynamics to Creole Language and Culture.

Since June 2010, more than 240,000 users have visited the OCW site, which averages nearly 20,000 visitors per month. Users have connected from 208 countries and territories, the top five being the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China and India.

The number of users accessing certain categories of courses can also be linked to specific world events occurrences. The OCW Creole course, for example, received an enormous amount of attention in the wake of the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti in January 2010.

Various charities, non-governmental organizations and media have turned to the course and its author, Karen Richman, as a resource in their efforts in the devastating aftermath. Richman even made herself available to users as a resource, communicating with them through Skype to practice and perfect their speaking abilities.

OCW’s applicability goes even further, as it provides Notre Dame students with in-depth information on specific courses, allowing them to make more informed decisions on their course schedules. The materials can also be used as unique study tools for students enrolled in one of the published courses.

The University plans to add additional courses that provide further educational resources to the international community as well as courses that provide a unique insight into the Notre Dame community, mission and perspective.

“We are looking for the small scale,” said Cathy Schulz, OCW project coordinator. “Not just anything and everything, but the kinds of things that are unique to Notre Dame.”

An initiative of the Kaneb Center’s, Notre Dame’s OCW program was established in 2006 from a Hewlett Foundation grant. More information is available here.