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July 11, 2023, by Joe Karaganis 

Much of the attention to ‘woke’ politics in higher ed assumes that the curriculum is a major driver of it – that students learn new ways of thinking about race or gender or inequality from their classes. This is a topic where the analysis of millions of syllabi can perhaps shed some light. At the risk of saying something both obvious and controversial, the curriculum of US higher education is very 'small c' conservative, built around long-term, slow-changing approaches to skills and knowledge in different fields. Our data suggests that it is, over the short and medium term at least, pretty insensitive to political and cultural change, and even to major shifts in knowledge and technology. This varies somewhat by field, of course, but not by that much.

We can test this claim in limited ways with the 'Trends' dashboard in OS Analytics, which permits keyword and phrase searches across the descriptive content of 18.7 million syllabi. What jumps out? Well – restricting the search to US syllabi – few classes deal with the main topics of ‘woke’ politics at all. Under 5% of classes reference "gender." 3% reference "race." Zoom in on some of the more contested vocabulary around these topics and mentions become very scarce. "Marxism," "transgender," and "critical race theory" each figure in around .1% of classes -- 1 in 1000 classes.


Limit the range to R1 and R2 (research) universities and the percentages increase to around.... .2%.


May 29, 2023, by Joe Karaganis 

We've made a number of changes in the past weeks to make Open Syllabus a better experience for users and to move toward a model of community support for our work.

First, we've created a new landing page that links the various Open Syllabus sites and services. We also switched our blog to a static page framework (Docusaurus, if you're curious).

Second, we've ended the open beta for Open Syllabus Analytics. If you already have an account, it has been switched to a 30-day personal trial account. Access via these accounts will time out unless you -- or someone at your organization -- creates an organizational account that you can join. For more information about how this works, see Account and Subscriptions. There are a number of subscription types and pricing tiers that hopefully can accommodate most schools and organizations. Moving forward, we will continue to expand both the free and subscription services, with the latter providing more data, tools, and views.

Third, we've updated to a new version of the syllabus dataset (2.10) in Analytics. 2.10 adds around 3 million new syllabi, bringing the total to 18.7 million. It especially expands coverage outside the US, with a focus on Europe.

If you enjoy Open Syllabus, we'd encourage you to create a trial account on Analytics and explore. If you find value in it, please give some thought to how you can get your school or organization involved as a subscriber and -- especially for schools -- as a donor of syllabi to the archive. We are building a global curricular archive for higher education and we need your help.

March 6, 2023, by Joe Karaganis 

There has been significant progress toward gender parity in many academic fields — and beyond it in some. The usual starting point for looking at this question in the US is the NSF’s "Survey of Earned Doctorates," which provides an annually-updated account of trends in PhD education. According to the most recent report from 2021, women make up almost 72% of psychology PhDs, 68% of health science PhDs, 53% in the biomedical sciences, and 50% in the social sciences. From there, percentages drop quickly: 33% in the physical sciences, 28% in math and statistics, 26% in engineering, and 25% in computer and information science. These percentages are not a measure of later employment in those fields — in fact the reality is probably somewhat worse due to "professional drop-off" among women in the STEM fields in which they are a minority. But it’s a place to start.

March 5, 2023, by Joe Karaganis 

A few years ago we reported on the rates of growth in the adoption of ‘Open Educational Resource’ (OER) textbooks and ‘Open Access’ (OA) monographs. These are books published under Creative Commons licenses, which means that they can be used and circulated freely. In world of $200 commercial textbooks, OER textbooks, in particular, have become an important part of school and state efforts to reduce student costs.

But free has a few drawbacks. In markets for commercial textbooks (and most other goods), supply and demand are connected by the sale. Producers and consumers communicate through this information loop, and this relationship makes the market more or less efficient and — on the supply side — capable of adjusting.

The information loop for free digital books, on the other hand, isn’t closed. There is no sale or single point of access and titles are copied and circulate freely. It’s hard, accordingly, to know what the demand side of the OER and OA ecosystems looks like. And this lack of information becomes a problem for authors and publishers (the producers) and faculty and students (the consumers). Decisions to invest time and money by faculty, funders, libraries and others in creating new titles are made without strong insight into the demand for existing ones. Adoption decisions by faculty and staff are made without much visibility into the experience of other programs, which could provide models. Both sides of the equation involve risks, that those risks are hard to mitigate.

Open Syllabus can construct this demand side information from syllabi, and so partially close the information loop. The chart above continues the story we began to tell in 2021 — one of roughly 20% annual growth in OER adoption since the early days in 2013 and 2014. That’s fast growth, but from a very low baseline. In 2014, around .2% (1 in 500) syllabi used an OER textbook in the US. By 2021, that number was around .8% or 1 in 125. 2022 data shows a drop, but current year data can be uneven due to lag in our collecting practices. You can explore all of this in detail at the new Open Syllabus Analytics.

There is a lot of variety in adoption across countries, states, and fields. California is a national leader in OER adoption at nearly three times the national average. Texas lags the national average by about a third.

Canadian OER adoption looks very similar to the US but UK adoption is heavily skewed toward monographs, with very little traction for textbooks.

Math is the field with the strongest uptake whereas in other fields OER textbooks have only begun to be available.

Because textbook use is sticky, it can take a long time for new titles to accumulate momentum. The major OER math titles are around a decade old. The computer science titles a bit older. Social science titles and business titles have begun to emerge in significant numbers only in the last five years. Major commercial textbooks, in contrast, are often decades-old brands that become synonymous with their teaching subjects.

The question for the next years is whether that growth rate will be sustained. If it is, OER will begin to take a significant chunk of the overall textbook market. Open Syllabus demand metrics will chart that progress. And if we’re right, by charting it, accelerate it.

January 15, 2023, by Joe Karaganis 

Hits of the 1990s

The Pudding published a fun and interesting visual exploration of which titles published in the 1990s have become part of the teaching canon in higher ed. The winner by a very large margin is Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried — a book of linked stories about the Vietnam War published in 1990. Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things are #2 and #3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is #4. Here is how those titles track over the past decade (this is from Open Syllabus Analytics — which you can test drive)

I have no special insight here, but a couple thoughts.

Independent of literary merit, successful new titles need a socially resonant theme. Middle-aged English professors in the 1990s were in their teens and twenties during the Vietnam War — a formative experience that probably contributed to The Things They Carried‘s classroom success. Can we test that with OS data? I think so. By the 2010s, the same faculty were retiring and, to an extent, carrying The Things They Carried with them — out of the classroom, slowly, partially, over the decade. Canonization is durable but not permanent, and the semester calendar forces zero-sum choices in the selection of texts.

Harry Potter is a different story — and not a shocker if one looks at the contexts in which it is assigned. The Harry Potter series is assigned primarily in children’s literature classes — not the American literature classes where you can find O’Brien and Cisneros, or the world and post-colonial literature classes that assign Roy. Children’s literature has a comparatively large footprint in OS data because it is a subfield of both English and Education. It also shows up in reading and literacy classes — again, both in the English and Education fields. The Sorcerer’s Stone is the representative text in these contexts. There’s not much classroom digging into the later books, though Prisoner of Azkaban is the distant #2.