The Harvard Extension Open Courseware Project

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The idea is to start an Open Courseware initiative for Harvard Extension school. Particularly, I would like to target the course videos for distance education courses as ideal material that could be shared with minimal effort. It seems to me like the argument for this is very strong -- Harvard Extension exists to allow a wider audience access to a Harvard Education, so this effort really aligns perfectly with the core mission and values of Harvard Extension.

  • Some points:
  • Something makes me uneasy about Harvard excersizing too much intellectual property rights in its courses. Obviously, professors and the school do a lot of work to put the classes together. However, Harvard classes would not be possible without the great intellectual commons of the arts and sciences, the sum of human knowledge built up over the centuries. It seems to me that the way we earn our legacy of knowledge is to share it.
  • Are professors going to be willing to have their work licensed this way? Will they want to be paid more?

Ideas for how to start

  • Here is a working draft of a letter to the people in other OCW projects, requesting their help.
  • Contact MIT, Harvard Medical School Open Courseware project leaders for advice (NOT DONE YET). Here is the response from an OCW guy at MIT to my initial question. The key step he lays out is identifying influental deans and faculty members, and making the case to them.
  • Determine whose approval and support we need from within the Extension School (NOT DONE YET)
  • Locate sources for funding (NOT DONE YET)

Overall Strategy -- Making the Argument

My thought is that perhaps it would be possible to get the extension school to deeply engage in this. After all, if we look at the tradition in which Harvard Extension was created, it was all about sharing the fruits of knowledge to a wider audience. We could try contacting:

  • A well thought-out open letter to the administration recommending opening course materials (Anyone want to help write it?)
  • [1]The Dean -- How much should I(we?) build up my case and support before contacting the Dean? Or is it better to open the dialog right away?
  • The Division of Continuing Education (DCE[2])
  • The IT guys/whoever currently does production+internet distribution of the video course materials -- If they got excited about it, they might be strong advocates for our technical feasability
  • The Extension School/DCE is already moving in the direction. E.g. the popular E-1 by David Malan was successfully podcasted last year.

Second Life Activism

How would it be possible to use Second Life to help this project? Any ideas?

Useful for planning [3]


There are obviously a number of technical aspects to this. The software platform needs to be integrated into professors' existing practices as well as possible. Hosting, editing, file formats, etc all need to be dealt with.

  • Where will the opencourseware site be hosted?
  • Will a new site created or will we just open up existing resources more?
  • Should Bittorrent (or similar) be used to reduce bandwidth costs?
  • Currently the Extension School releases videos in Realplayer(tm) 10 format. Should more open formats be considered?
  • How will other non-video course materials be presented? Should we simply collect as much course material as possible from each professor, and have our opencourseware team turn that into a relatively standardized, online format?

Theres a discussion on Video options available on The Video Production Project


Please list yourself here if you are interested in helping with this project. Particularly anyone who knows extension school faculty/administration could be helpful, as well as any students who would like to help raise awareness, prepare our argument, etc. Also any students who want to help just by putting their names behind it, cosigners on (eventual) open letters to the administration, or who thinks they can help lobby.

Useful links