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October 6, 2020, by Joe Karaganis 

Open Access (OA) monographs and Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks are works that are ‘openly licensed’ — that is, they can be used and distributed for free. In a world of $200 textbooks, OA/OER plays a fairly high-profile role in efforts to reduce the cost of education.

But free circulation makes it difficult to track classroom adoption, which in turn makes it difficulty to understand the shape of demand for OA/OER work–either overall or with respect to particular subjects. The link between supply and demand established in the commercial book market by a sale doesn’t exist in the OA/OER world. Our thought is that this delinking is one reason–and maybe a significant reason–for the relatively low rate of adoption of OA/OER in teaching, despite over a decade of efforts. It’s still too hard to characterize demand for these titles to faculty, curricular designers, publishers, and investors. It’s hard to tell what’s popular and what’s been effectively adopted in peer institutions.

So we’re eager to see what happens when we partially close this information loop by measuring demand via syllabi. Here’s a normalized US trendline for OA/OER adoption based on the OS collection (drawing on catalog information from the Open Textbook Library and the Directory of Open Access Books). It shows rapid OER textbook growth in recent years–but from a very low baseline. In 2017, roughly 1 in 300 classes used OER textbooks and around 1 in 400 assigned an OA monograph (the lighter blue is for textbooks; darker for monographs).

That’s across all ‘US syllabi with citations,’ which requires caveats since some types of classes don’t have assigned materials.

The availability of good OER materials also varies significantly by field and topic. Studies that have focused narrowly on classes for which there are good OER equivalents find significantly higher rates of adoption–around 6% in this 2018 study. Recent surveys of OER use also suggest higher and rising numbers. We can’t zero in on specific classes but we can explore differences between fields. In Math–a field with a number of widely used OER textbooks–we put US adoption at 1.5% of ‘syllabi with citations’ in 2017 (and climbing).

There are other ways to slice this data. The chart below focuses on US 2-year colleges. The data is choppier (we may drop the early 2000s from charts, which are noisy when normalized) but pretty clearly show sharp recent growth in textbook adoption–and virtually no role for OA monographs, which are typically more advanced scholarly work.

There is a decent case, in other words, that OER is at a takeoff point in higher ed–though still at very low levels of adoption across the curriculum. These charts come from a dashboard that we’ll publish in a couple weeks. Then you can explore.

June 16, 2019, by Joe Karaganis 

Welcome to the Open Syllabus Project 2.0. Now you can explore college teaching, publishing, and intellectual traditions across 6 million classes, 4700 schools, and 79 countries.

You can dive into schools and fields, look at how the adoption of texts changes over time, and compare how teaching varies in different countries.

So explore, let us know what you think, and give some thought to sharing your syllabi.

January 16, 2019, by Joe Karaganis 

We received this 1996 Wesleyan University syllabus as a remembrance of the instructor by a former student. It’s January’s syllabus of the month.

Fall 1996
Col/Hum 104

Teachers and Their Teachings: From Socrates to Foucault

Howard Bernstein
X 2323 Butterfield C313, Office hours, T, Th 4-5 and by Appt

General description: This course is about teachers and students, their relationships, and some powerful pedagogical ideas; it is also about maturation and longing, power and subordination, deception and self-deception, transference and counter-transference. We will be asking questions about what it means to “educate,” to take responsibility for the shaping of another soul, to transmit culture, to confront and to provoke, and perhaps, also, to insinuate, manipulate, and judge. What is it that students alternatively crave and fear in the educative process? Why do teachers presume to teach when the opportunities to do otherwise are often more glitteringly attractive? Our task is to examine different, and sometimes discordant, models of teaching and learning from classical antiquity virtually to the present. As little as possible will be presupposed or assumed to be self-evident, including the almost sacrosanct notion that “education” (liberal or illiberal) is a good thing for which there is some sort of intrinsic “need.”

Major readings in order of appearance (mostly):

David Mamet, Oleanna

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Plato, the Republic, Apology

Selections from the Synoptic Gospels, and the Pauline Epistles.

Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

John Holt, Freedom and Beyond

(Note: there will also be short supplementary readings bound together in a packet.)

Course Calendar

5 September: Introductions and housekeeping. What does a “teacher ” do?

10 Sept: READ: David Mamet, Oleanna.

12, 17 Sept: READ: Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind pp. 19-23, 25- 43, 62-7, 243-5, 264(top)-284, 380-2. (Here we are especially interested in Bloom’s evocation of the Socratic image in the cause of educational traditionalism. Bloom can be infuriating, but that may well be the point, so be patient).

19, 24, 26 Sept: READ: Plato, Republic, Books III, IV, VI , VII, IX. (Note: Bk VII contains the famous “Simile of the Cave” and Plato/Socrates’s vivid representation of the educative process as the “turning around” of the soul.

1 Oct: READ: Plato, Apology (The Last Days of Socrates) in Laser Packet of course readings.

8 Oct: READ: Biblical Selections in course reader. Read these in order beginning with the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. (Our special interest here is in Jesus as charismatic teacher and also, inevitably, in the message).

Don’t forget the Pheme Perkins stuff in Read as well.

10 Oct: READ: Letters of Abelard and Heloise, pp. 9-106.

15 Oct: READ; Letters, pp. 109-179.

17, 22 Oct: READ: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Book I, II

_22   _October                Mid-Term Due In Class

29 Oct., 5 Nov: READ Rousseau, Bk III, IV   (You may omit pp. 266-313 which happens to be the celebrated “Confession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar”)

7, 12 Nov:  READ: Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 3-72, 135-194. There is also introductory material in the Sir Speedy packet under the heading The Foucault Reader. (Note: You may well be wondering at the outset what all this stuff on torture and punishment has to do with teaching and education. Believe me, the connection will clarify itself in time).

14, 19, 21 Nov: READ: Foucault, pp. 195-end, and then, for contrast, Bloom, pp. 47-61, 68-137 , 313-356.

26 Nov. 3 December: READ: Holt, Freedom and Beyond.

5 Dec: David Mamet’s Movie version of Oleanna

10 Dec: Review and retrospective.


12 DECEMBER Housekeeping : There are two formal papers required for this course, one at mid­ term and the other as a final project. These will be approximately 6-8 typed pages in length. Students are also required to keep and submit a weekly journal about which I will have more to say in class. Participation in a discussion course such as this is also important. From to time, there will be informal lectures, but without any set pattern, and there will always be occasion for free for all question and answer sessions

October 8, 2018, by Joe Karaganis 

We always like to learn more about how the OSP is being used, and sometimes this yields an unexpected treat.  Here’s a short segment from a Japanese quiz show called ‘Wow! Surprising Japan,’ in which foreigners are quizzed about their knowledge of Japan.  The segment discusses novelist Souseki Natsume, who comes in 11th in some sort of power ranking of famous Japanese people.  Here, the OSP is used as an authority for what foreigners might know about Japan.  According to our data, Natsume’s Kokoro is assigned with some frequency.  Thanks, Daisuke!

May 22, 2018, by Joe Karaganis 

The next version of the OSP dataset is beginning to take shape.  It will have roughly 6 million syllabi, covering around 6000 institutions around the world.  All the stats and breakdowns will bounce around as we refine the classifiers, decide which fields to consolidate, and so on, but here are a couple interesting initial views:

And a breakdown by field: