Open Cast Planning Grant

April 29, 2008

Thanks to WIlliam and Flora Hewlett and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations for joining together to support the Open Cast project (new site will be coming out soon) planning grant. This funding will support the project in conducting three requirements and best practices workshops to explore the requirements and readiness for a new community source effort around the shared development and design of an open source podcast capture and delivery system for higher ed. Outcomes will be documentation of the resulting requirements and best practices, the development of a collaborative community (already well underway with over 200 individual participants), and a well defined proposal for next steps.

Why is this important?

UC Berkeley has been delivering open webcast content (audio and video) since the mid-90’s. As we have increasingly automated the process, brought down the cost to sustain the system, disseminated the content to popular platforms such as YouTube and iTunes (go to where the viewers/learners/users are), and increased our installations, we have found that this program makes a difference in both lives and professions.

First, professions.

In Spring 2006, UC Berkeley launched a free podcasting service, which leveraged Berkeley’s existing video webcast infrastructure in general assignment classrooms and our central scheduling and capture system. In doing so, humanities curriculum was exposed to an eager public. These humanities podcasts have had a tremendous impact on the public and far exceed the popularity of the sciences – becoming some of the most popular podcasts on iTunes, wedged between notable media outlets like CNN and National Geographic. Popular courses include “Man, God, and Society in Western Literature,” taught by Philosophy Professor Herbert Dreyfus and Professor Michael Nagler’s “Non-Violence Today

Webcast video and audio helps to spotlight humanities curriculum and faculty at a time when the humanities are struggling to receive funds and recognition. The American Historical Society, for example, highlights the Berkeley History curriculum on its website . One young Berkeley history lecturer used the webcasting of her course to promote her teaching and scholarship, eventually earning an assistant professorship at the University of Virginia. Without a scalable and affordable system and set of best practices, the sharing of this content and exposure for the Berkeley History Department would not be possible.

Now, lives.

ETS and our webcasting faculty get amazing letters from learners around the world. These webcasts are engaging, entertaining, educating millions of people. There is not a continent that has gone untouched. Here are a couple of examples:

“…As far as I’ve been watching it’s been great, though I’ve only been watching Physics 10 with Professor Richard A. Muller because he’s really such an interesting teacher. I’m interested, I’m laughing and I’m learning…”

“Is there a course on art history? If so I beg on bended knee for that to be uploaded!
Thank you a million times for allowing us to watch your lectures here!
The person who had this idea should be knighted or maybe a petition for sainthood!
The free flow of information is an essential part of the evolution of any society!
Thank you again!!!”

No kidding. Comments like this come in like candy, reminding us why we come to work every day at such an incredible public institution like UC Berkeley.

Interestingly, the UC Berkeley students seem to get it too. They are absolutely in love with webcast because it helps them learn better. In recent focus groups with ETS they have talked about using it to review the lecture and to listen to other teachers from other semesters on the same subjects. They will review the lecture notes at night and then listen to the podcast on the way to school in the morning. Several students have mentioned that while they would love to have these embedded in their course sites, they also don’t want to deprive the public of them. One student mentioned how the MIT OCW helped her augment her studies as a high school student in India and credited her acceptance to Berkeley because of that.

Wouldn’t it be great if more schools could/would do this too?

We hope that Open Cast will make it easier for them to join in.

OCW Sustainability Formula?

October 7, 2007

I attended the Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC) conference in beautiful Logan, Utah at the end of September. The OCW “movement” is still relatively young (2002ish?), and the OCWC organization is busy trying to define its mission and structure.

UC Berkeley joined OCWC in August, although we have been delivering “open courseware” via our online lectures since 1995 ( This began as a research project managed by Professor Larry Rowe in his Berkeley Multimedia Research Center (BMRC) as the BIBS project (Berkeley Internet Broadcast System). We are now busy on what we call webcast NG, the next generation of the webcasting infrastructure that is being built upon Sakai’s open source framework and new infrastructure that includes some key elements from one of our favorite education and media companies, Apple. I gave a little talk about this while at OCWC and have attached my slides as a PDF if you are interested in learning more about what we do at UC Berkeley.

Some of the discussions I enjoyed the most were about sustainability. This is always of interest to me, as someone who is responsible for providing centrally supported services to my campus. Sustainability was talked about in terms of the OCWC organization and in terms of the OCW effort in general.

I think a central criterion for sustainability in the open content arena is “perceived value”. This means the value provided by the supporting organizations, and the value provided by the activity of providing the content (think about the alignment of university mission for this one), and, hopefully, the value of the content itself.

I suspect there is a formula for something like this that looks like, sustainability + meeting real (local and global) need + innovation = value. When looking through the lens of this formula, there may be an opportunity to expand the definition of OCW and its associated activities. To date it has often been defined as a publishing model which reflects the artifacts and experiences of a traditional course taught in the physical space of a classroom as well as those represented in an LMS or CLE. When thinking about sustainability, a publishing model makes good sense. However, while sustainability remains (and should be) prominent for most of us (this need is driving UCB’s current efforts), I doubt there is value in constraining the OCW vision to this in the future: innovation and meeting real needs will begin to take us well beyond this.

In regards to the meeting real needs part of the formula, at UCB we deliver videos and podcasts of complete courses via the capture of lectures. As we all know, a lecture is in no way the entirety of the course and this limitation is one of the common arguments used to convince a professor that public webcasts or podcasts are an OK thing to do — we are not giving away the keys to the kingdom! In fact, I think I would be hard pressed to find a large contingent of UC Berkeley professors at this moment who would be willing to release their entire course content in the manner of MIT’s powerful OCW program, let alone obtain an operating budget that would enable me to do so. That said, the email we receive from people all over the world indicates that in many cases, they consider these videos and podcasts alone as fantastic learning aids that expand their thinking and knowledge in valuable ways – these course web & pod casts improve lives! Now, if we could only get the funding to make all this content fully accessible through captioning, then we would truly be meeting real needs.

Adding “innovation” into the mix

While UCB is heads-down on getting our NG infrastructure in place, we are anxiously thinking ahead about new tools that will improve the experience of interacting with this content and help learners manage and share their own learning. These can be simple widgets with discrete interactions, to more complex applications that need to integrate with each other to manage institutional data through a CLE-type environment. Supporting these types of interactions begin to round out the value proposition since the activities that support managing an individual’s own learning and engaging with others to build knowledge are key motivators for learners. One way in which we can start to jump start this and alleviate costs is to form partnerships across higher ed and with companies doing interesting work such as YouTube and Apple, as well as building our platforms in an open enough way that our own constituencies can start to add to the value proposition!

UC Berkeley webcast has a new distribution partner in YouTube: The site was officially launched on Wednesday, October 3, to a great community (global) response. There were many notices of this across the blogosphere and Web. Ben Hubbard, our webcast program manager at UC Berkeley is tracking many of these on his site.

We see this as the beginning of a very interesting relationship. Integrating educational content into YouTube, firmly a leader in the web 2.0 world, begins a unique experiment in building informal learning communities around formal learning activities. Not sure exactly where this will take us, but I expect there to be some tensions along the way and some breakthroughs. I’ll keep you posted.