Tuesday, 1 February 2011

If something is shared do you value it less?

Sharing the juice

Image: Sharing the juice by zummersweet

If you listened only to those I know online, who are interested in learning, you would think that the world believed in trying to make and share educational content as easily as possible. But that is not always true.  I have participated in discussions where it has been suggested that students might think that a course has less value if the content is freely available. The usual response is that  a student should sense more value in participating in a course,  than that which can be derived from easily shared online content. There should be more to it than a few lectures.

This morning I saw a tweet about a lecture on health inequities in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. My immediate thought, which I tweeted back, was that it was a pity that the lecture wasn't more widely available (recorded, shared and able to be embedded in a blog) since the topic is so important. The things is that I've started getting a little spoiled. Last week I was able to watch sessions from the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (FIMDM) conference in Washington DC here, live as they were being streamed, and for free. Last year, I watched many of the sessions in a 2 day conference on "Innovation in the Age of Reform" and you can too now, because those sessions are still available here. That conference was organised by Swedish . I had never heard of them before but I have now and so have you.

Lecture capture is becoming so easy to do that most universities have started already. And if you have the lecture then why not share it? Many are. iTunesU is one way of  sharing your content freely with others. Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Yale are some of the universities already sharing with iTunesU. MIT have a whole website devoted to sharing 2000 of their courses. So all of these institutions have decided that there is something to be gained from making some of their content freely available. Maybe they believe that it is morally right to share, or that is will garner them positive coverage, or attract future students.

Anyway, the doctor I was speaking to thought that it wouldn't be appropriate to share material from a post-graduate course that someone was paying for. I asked if she thought it would devalue the course and she said yes. So, away from the echo chamber that I seem to inhabit more often I wanted to ask how you would feel about paying to attend a course where some of the materials were made freely available to others. Would it put you off? Would you feel proud that others could see the high standard of teaching you were receiving? Would you feel glad that your fees were helping to share knowledge around the world? Or would you feel cheated?


  1. Hi Anne Marie, I love sharing information and knowledge, that's the path to freedom. Creative commons is my ideal, thanks for this topic.
    kind regards, Carolyn

  2. Hi Carolyn! I know you are doing great work. So just to clarify, if you were paying for a course you would still be happy for some of the content to be available free to others?

  3. A fascinating topic and one that I have been exploring in the wider context of education through online learning for social work and social care. I have no problem with universities providing online content from a course that I have paid to attend. People are becoming more selective and critical about the courses they choose. Providing materials online allows the prospective student to assess the quality and focus of the course. It is potentially a great marketing opportunity for universities. Being in a lecture hall with a powerpoint presentation does not often add value to my learning. It is the sharing of knowledge and experiences with the tutors and fellow students which really adds value to the education process.

  4. I think it's important that information can be shared & one of the great things about the Internet is that so much great knowledge is freely available (albeit hidden among a lot of dubious stuff!). I think I would be happy to pay for a course where some (but not all) of the information was made freely available. Initiatives like that may encourage other people to do the same course if they get a feel for what is taught on it.

  5. Thanks Shirley. I do hope that more institutions start taking this view- it would be even better if it were the students who were to start calling for it!

  6. Thanks Alison. It's great to get a perspective from someone who is involved in medical education. Appreciate it!

  7. Anne Marie, I have mixed feelings about this. I appreciate the altruism of sharing via internet and have used iTunesU-although the quality of the content is variable.

    Taking it further what about conferences where conference fees are high? Yet tweeting from this would provide real time info, would generate interest in the conference for future attendance.

    Why can't the medical industry and big pharma not pool their resources to enable and support this? Surely virtual attendance is here and here to stay.

    Lecturing and powerpoint are overused and often poorly delivered in real time anyway. Interactive and small group teaching are more rewarding and get better feedback. I wouldn't want to replace that and I cant yet see how social media and the interweb generally could replace it-in a sense Im saying lectures shared online are not giving away as much as you might think. Students and conference attendees get a LOT more for their money than a few lectures.

    In summary, before you ask(!), I would be in favour of limited sharing, that those paying know upfront that it is happening and what is being shared and that it helps create interest in courses and conferences for real time attendees. That means everyone wins.

  8. I love the idea of more information being shared freely between people. My view has always been that a course should offer more than lectures and notes. If those organising courses should be less focussed on the course being devalued by free information sharing and more focussed on making sure the course offers something a little extra to those who pay to attend.

  9. Although as you know, I'm a strong advocate of sharing, I know a lot of faculty who feel the exact opposite. We have faculty who refuse to be lecture captured to a private site because they think their knowledge will be "stolen". Others refuse to allow their PowerPoint to be given as handouts.
    I think this is a direct result of university hierarchy where your publications = your status.

  10. I think having free access to the TED videos online is making people start to question the constraints and costs of formal education and learning.

    The final paragraph of the following article raises a number of interesting challenges for universities: Why free online lectures will destroy universities – unless they get their act together fast. http://tinyurl.com/29ejswr

    "Freely available online lectures and textbooks give universities the opportunity to reduce costs and increase quality, while focusing resources on what really matters: contact time between teachers and students. The simple fact is that the education most universities provide isn’t worth the money. If they don’t have world-class reputations – and only a few do – then they need to change fast, or watch an exodus of students away to cheaper, better alternatives."

  11. Further evidence about how online education is disrupting traditional academic models

  12. Thank you Anne Marie,

    To begin, I am an advocate of open content. However, the real question here is "how do we define value?". Economic theory would tell us that value is directly related to incentives, which can be economical, moral, or financial.

    Fundamentally, I believe it is an issue of world views. To me, accessing MIT coursework brings value to MIT (because I will cite them and more people will want to go there). A new university however, who is paying to have an innovation out the door, may not be in the same shoes (because they have more to loose than to gain).

    I will end with Pablo Picasso: "Bad artists copy, great artists steal"

    Looking forward to your thoughts!


  13. It seems unfair to share information that some people are paying for, but the availability of information is one thing and the interaction with peers and the lecturer or expert is quite another. It's the latter - the thinking, discussion and reflection which holds the real educational value. Anyone can watch a lecture.

    The medical profession has seen, first hand, how its closed shop of knowledge has been opened up to consumers over the last 15 years by the advent of the internet, but this doesn't mean that a lay person can become a doctor or diagnose themselves just because they can access medical journals.

    Similarly, educational institutions ought to realise that, inevitably, there will be voluntary and involuntary leaks of information and if it helps lights a spark in the minds of those who wish to learn, then that is surely a good thing?

    An anaesthetist and educationalist friend of mine recently 'fessed up to watching a whole term of Yale lectures online - (Physics I believe) - but he's very unlikely to be ever become a Yale physics graduate, even though he is bright enough. All good.

  14. It's interesting that the lecturer at LSHTM didn't think it was appropriate to make his lecture openly available because students were paying for the course. If it was made more widely available he might recruit more fee paying students. MIT, the OU and other universities making their teaching resources available as Open Courseware and on iTunesU are seeing growing numbers of students enrolling on their courses because individuals see the resources and then want to get some accreditation for their learning.

    I know that our students are looking at lectures online from other medical schools and downloading podcasts from Aberdeen, Swansea etc, I don't think they would be too bothered byus making our content open when we start sharing content through these channels.

    Last week's report to HEFCE by the Online Learning Taskforce also has some interesting things to say on this topic. It recommends that universities should make their online learning more visible to potential students and that there should be more investment in the development and exploitation of open educational resources to enhance efficiency and quality. This all makes sense to me. I think sharing resources could also help to enhance scholarly recognition for teaching, which might be helpful to support promotion etc.

  15. @Colin Thanks for the response! Indeed I completely agree that there should be much more to participation in a course than just being the passive recipient of lectures. I'm glad that @Lily, a medical student, made that point as well. It is hard (so far) to replicate what really happens at a conference in an offline environment in an online one. I think the chances of many people paying over £700 to have virtual access to a conference are pretty slim (yes- it's true! http://internationalforum.bmj.com/2011-forum/fees).
    I don't agree that outside sponsorship, especially by pharma, is the only solution to this. My hunch is that virtual access increases the attraction of the offline event and just as people are downloading music for free whilst spending more than ever going to gigs, no-one will go bust.

    @Deirdre I don't understand your colleagues. Most of the time when you publish work in journals you hand over copyright anyway! So what can be so bad about giving a few handouts to students. I wonder if sometimes people are afraid to expose that they haven't had permission to use materials the way that they have done.

    @Shirley Many thanks for the links! The times they are a changin' :)

  16. @ciscogiii Thanks for taking the time to drop by! I suppose I was trying to keep it simple here by first and foremost querying how students would feel about a course they are attending distributing some (or all) of the materials for free.

    I'm not sure that I understand what you mean by "paying to have an innovation out the door"? What has a smaller university to lose? I know that although lecture capture can be done very cheaply there still are some overheads. Is that what you mean? If the capture is audio alone I'd contest that the costs really are negligible.

    In some ways I think that the argument should be the other way round. If universities have any kind of third mission that involves service to the community, then how can they justify not letting the world have access to some of the great thinkers which they have the luxury of having within their walls?

  17. @Ayan I'm in agreement! Your analogy is very useful and may help to convert some of those who have more reservations.

    @Natalie I think you might be referring to Martin McKee's tweet. He wasn't the person giving the lecture this morning but his perception that the 'market' in higher education prevents sharing is very interesting. As you say, if anything the market should encourage sharing as it can show off what is best about an institution (or a conference!)

    I wonder what impact the HEFCE report will have. We'll see! Thanks again:)

  18. The model of open education we are using at Otago Polytechnic looks like this.

    The content is freely open...after all, the knowledge wasn't ours in the first place...we got it from somewhere. Everyone has access to the content. What students then pay for is the facilitation , asessment and accreditation services.

  19. As I said (but in only 140 characters) on twitter, I see no problem in paying for a course that makes some materials freely available. I think one pays for the assessment/accreditation and (sometimes) formal qualification that comes with a course as opposed to the knowledge. Sharing is good!

  20. @Sarah I think, really, that is all they have ever really been paying for - it's just that institutions liked to try and 'sweeten' the pot by making out that there was information you couldn't have unless you paid to study there. I know lecturers who take it a stage further and leave some bits out of their printed notes so students have to come to lectures - except, of course, they don't have to because some of them can actually use Google...

    I am very in favour of educational resources being open and freely available. But I also have to say that if they had been even as open and available as they are now a decade ago, I might not have come back to HE as a mature student, but may well have relied on studying in my own time and creating a portfolio of my work. I might value the content slightly less if it is freely available, but it wouldn't stop me from using it - and I would value more highly the contribution to society of those who were creating and distributing it. But I don't know if that sense of value would go as far as me wanting to finance the system of production directly from my pocket - that's one of the things I pay taxes for!

  21. Goodness, finally got to a computer!

    I think this is such an interesting and important topic in current medical education, indeed ALL education; I thought too it was a "no-brainer" to share, but was not entirely surprised by Anne-Marie's discussion with a colleague about devaluation of courses from file sharing in whatever format.

    As pure coincidence I was late last week listening to an undergradaute Public Health Podcast from UC Berkeley (http://webcast.berkeley.edu/course_details.php?seriesid=1906978480) over lunch with my 9 month old. I clearly didn't take it all in, but having Arthur Reingold chat in the background while I dodged the spaghetti hoops being thrown all over the kitchen made me feel happy to be engaging, making the most of my time, multi-tasking, whatever you want to call it...it made a welcome change to a background of Peppa Pig and Radio 5 Live...was it the same as being there? Of course not, a little like watching 'live' opera being streamed into a PictureHouse/FACT cinema, good, but nowhere near as good as actually being at the New York Met! (despite paying significantly less for the pleasure)

    But the listening to or watching of materials from universities or courses or conferences does not devalue them for me. In fact I'd go as far as to say that saying as much is just allowing the same old elitism to pervade. And on listening to/watching these materials, I don't feel it is a replacement for actually being there, but it does indeed make me want to go!

    There is little chance of my going to UC Berkeley or Harvard or Yale, but there is every chance of someone in a developing country listening online to a podcast from LSTMH and deciding to actually go and do that MSc in Tropical Medicine or Parisitology...and surely the very least that may happen is knowledge gained?

    I guess you can hide behind intellectual property rights and copyright, but surely education should be free for all?

    I remember doing a series of (free) online anaesthetic courses on the doctors.net.uk site prior to an anaesthetic SHO post interview (pre-MMC!) and talking about them at my interview as a evidence of my interest in the specialty. The panel were very impressed until one member asked how much they cost; when I reported they were free and anyone registered was eligible, there was laughter and head shaking around the table. I got the job, but no thanks to my free online doctors.net.uk courses! Had they have cost money, would they have had more kudos?

    I just think finally, in this age of massive consumerism, we should absolutely NOT aspire to a designer education as well as a designer wardrobe. Not everyone is able to up sticks and travel to a suitable course/conference/whatever, but shouldn't preclude them participating...the fact that I may by the end of my mat leave have listened to a good majority of the UC Berkeley PH undergrad and postgrad courses does not mean that I now think I am eligible for a certificate, and I don't think I have devalued the course for others who have paid for their UCB education!
    I think UK universities/postgraduate centres should embrace the Ivy League model and get onto iTunes. ASAP.

    Thanks for letting me share Anne-Marie, I said you were on my to-do list! :-)

  22. Hello. Does the doctor you where speaking to have an online presence? I think what seems obvious to online geeks, isn't so for offline people.
    Thanks for sharing this issue!

  23. This is sweet:-) The post speaks from the heart and is very true.

  24. Ditto doc, sharing is always sexy. And it helps people from other nations to know about all these important stuff for free. Who cares if other people neglect its importance? it's up to the readers o appreciate them or not.


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