Open Syllabus Project



The Open Syllabus Project (OSP) is building the first large-scale online database of university course syllabi as a platform for new research, teaching, and administrative tools.

We hope the OSP will improve our understanding of teaching, publishing, and intellectual history on a wide range of fronts, such as:

What are the most taught texts? How have fields changed? How do schools or departments within a field differ from one another? What is the demand for Open Access materials?

Because policies and norms around syllabus ownership vary, the OSP won’t publish syllabi without permission. The public side of the OSP will be a collection of tools for analyzing metadata extracted from the documents. We will also, in the course of this work, advocate for stronger open-access policies for syllabi.

We’re still building the community of interest in the project and would welcome help in four broad areas: access to collections of syllabi, tools development, relationships with libraries and archives, and exploration of the research potential of the database.

GUEST POST: The Open Curriculum Project

Here at the OSP, we’re always interested in seeing how others are tackling the complex problem of open curriculum sharing. So we were really excited to hear about this “small open syllabus” project spearheaded by Sherif Mansour after attending Wikimania 2014. Here’s his guest blog post introducing his project to open Egypt’s educational system:

The Open Curriculum Project

I attended Wikimania 2014 in London, Wikipedia’s annual conference. I was inspired by some of the genuinely amazing people doing some ground breaking work, and decided to see how that could help Egypt’s educational system.

What did I do?

1) Uploaded a scanned copy of the school text books in wiki-commons, which is a part of Wikiepdia for media files and documents.

2) Created a wiki-source “digital library” page which allows the user to edit each page and see the scanned copy side by side., allowing the quality of the material improve over time.

3) Created a page that details the course and foster a discussion around it.

4) The page can be downloaded as a PDF/EPUB file format meaning it could be read on almost all devices and e-readers while maintaining an up-to-date version of textbook.

This video might help explain.

You may not know this but Egypt’s Ministry of Education (MOE), has all the school books up on a public Microsoft “Drop Box” found here.

I then uploaded the first year secondary school text books to wiki-commons and tagged them as such (notice the “الصف_الاول_الاعدادي” tag). I tagged the

Opportunity: Help us analyze 2 million scraped syllabi!

Do you have enviable data visualization and natural language processing skills and a passion for learning how teaching changes over time? If so, the Open Syllabus Project needs you!

Help us put 2 million scraped syllabi online, do natural language processing to extract citations from each syllabus, and build visualizations to do citation analysis. We want to see what people are actually teaching for each subject, how this changes over time, and make this type of analysis widely available to researchers. This is an ideal job for a programmer with visualization, natural language processing, digital humanities or data journalism experience.

Interested? Learn more and how to apply here.

Intellectual Property (or lack thereof) in Online Courses

In a recent story published on The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae Blog, Karen McArthur’s experience with plagiarism of her online art history course serves as a reminder of the murky new definition of intellectual property in the digital age:

“McArthur wondered: Was Blau really teaching a course she had created? If so, why didn’t she know about it? McArthur had, in fact, spent two years developing and refining an art-appreciation curriculum, but she had never authorized other professors to use it. Was it possible that her colleagues were pretending to be her in other virtual classrooms?”

More than just possible, this situation is happening to instructors all over the country, especially as the push towards online courses dominates discussions of innovation in higher education. “Shell courses” like the one copied from McArthur without her permission — and adjuncts teaching others’ material more largely — have become commonplace, according to experts in online learning. But beyond depersonalizing the teaching craft, this push towards easily distributable template courses signals more disturbing implications for intellectual property rights, particularly for instructors who spend a great deal of time designing their courses:

“Teaching is a core part of their academic identity—in many cases, it’s the only thing they’re evaluated and compensated for. Indeed, McArthur considered the creation of her courses to be an original, creative act, just like research.

But unlike scholarship, teaching isn’t always protected by a widespread consensus on intellectual-property rights. And when it comes to teaching, some scholars say that