Over the last 4 years our team has created (at last count) 305 free and open courses. We’ve learned some lessons about that process and are continually tweaking our efforts in order to deliver quality content to our users. This year has been no different, and any insider here at the office will tell you we’ve spent a considerable amount of the summer brainstorming.

Open Book Policy

While we’ve been looking at the bigger picture, we’ve  identified action items (or “low hanging fruit”, if you will) that will help us improve the efficacy of our courses and, of course, help our students.  You should soon start to see:

  • more formative assessments (read: more frequent checkpoints and quizes to assess your knowledge as you go)
  • increased use of mixed media (photos, videos, images..oh my!)
  • smaller pieces of content (20 pages of readings? How about 5?)

These pieces will be implemented on a rolling basis, but we’ll take this opportunity for a quick shout out to our content team, who will be assessing and directing these improvements in the upcoming year (Jen, Tanner, Lindsay, Angelyn, Izzy and David are rockstars, to say the least).

To that end, a handful of potential courses (listed on site, but not yet complete) had to be let go in order to free up time to make the aforementioned improvements. Only five of our Areas of Study were impacted  by this move and you can see the list of these courses we have put on an indefinite hold here. While we may revisit these in the future, we’re taking them off the “to do” list for now so we can focus our energy on increasing the quality of  the completed courses on Saylor.org.



11 thoughts on “Open Book Policy: A Few Saylor.org Updates

  1. Hi I just want to congratulate you on the outstanding free courses you provide. I am working my way steadily through the Art History courses at the moment, and getting a great deal out of them. I think your action items are very good – they will help enormously. Another, relatively small thing that would also help – is there any way that you can use cookies or the optional log in that we currently do for the e-Portfolio, so we can check off our progress through the resources for each Unit? Your iTunes U courses allow this feature, and it is a great help as you return to a unit that you know is incomplete, but it is easy to forget exactly which materials you accessed the last time and I find myself re-visiting pages regularly. I also like the way in which you link to the materials offered by the Khan Academy, and perhaps a stronger partnership here would also help. So many of their videos are directly relevant to the topics covers in Art History.

    Thanks from a grateful student

    1. Hi Michelle!

      Great to hear that you’re enjoying the courses. We really appreciate the kind words.

      As far as the improvements you mentioned, we’ve discussed similar features and capabilities here at the office as well! So, you’re basically on the same page as us. These things take time; however, and your comments were sent around to our team to reinforce this need from a student perspective.

      Please feel free to send us any further suggestions as you move along in your learning.

      – Rachel

  2. It’s good to see that you are continuing to develop and improve the design of courses. I’d certainly agree with more formative assessment; it can be rather too tempting to push on to the end without taking due time to digest the information.

    Please don’t get carried away with the ‘bite-sizing’ of content. One of the things I most appreciate here is being treated as an adult and being set appropriately challenging readings. Academic credibility requires that students be able to tackle texts of significant length and complexity.

  3. Hey Paul, You make a really good point and I regret my somewhat glib tone in the post may have made it seem as if we won’t take the level of academic rigor of our texts into consideration before “bite-sizing” it. Not entirely what I was going for.

    We’re learning more and more about online reading habits so we may use that understanding to trim down very large assignments in some of our courses. That being said, we wouldn’t foresake complexity or the assigned learning outcomes just to make a text shorter.

    In any event, I’ll pass on your comment to the content team so they can keep this in mind. Please keep us posted on any other thoughts/feedback. I can’t say enough how much we love hearing from students!

    – Rachel

  4. POLSC101 is a good example of a first class text-heavy course. Right from the outset you are plunged into substantial primary source readings. It may not be for the faint-hearted but, in my opinion, it gives a deeper grasp of the material than would be achieved if the course relied entirely on modern interpretations of the writers. Without returning to the course materials I can’t quite see how it would be possible to use these original texts while shortening the readings; it is sometimes necessary to read 30 pages as a unitary whole to grasp an overall view or concept.

    My suggestion would be to enhance the framing material. Although I quite like the clean and sparse design, it can sometimes look rather more like a reading list than a course. It is unusual to get more than a sentence or two to introduce resources and often that is little more than an instruction, “read pages 20-34”.

    Although it would obviously require more expenditure of time and effort from your course designers, it would probably be more appealing, without detracting from the academic rigour, to write linking text, maybe even including some images(!) to introduce the resources and set them in context within the unit and course. This would not only change the look and feel but also give the opportunity to hear the editor’s voice. This could give a stronger identity to courses which can sometimes seem a random patchwork driven more by availability of resources than academic design. Maybe even consider having an intro video to the course and/or each unit as in the PRDV courses so we can connect with the course designer.

    Please don’t take this as criticism, a glance at my records here will show my interest and commitment, but the site does really need a lot more active students. Until there are enough participants to generate some buzz of activity on the forums many potential students are going to drop in, look around then walk away. I’ve had regular discussions on various platforms where I have encouraged others to look at Saylor courses and the most frequent feedback I get is that it is just too quiet.

    1. Hi Paul,

      I think your suggestions makes sense and we’ve been discussing the framing materials as well in our talks regarding course improvements. It may be implicit at this point, but your feedback will be sent to our contentdev team.

      I like our simple aesthetic as well. Though I think a slightly different layout and adding media (images! yes.) is a good suggestion. I personally love the idea of having the course designer(s)/editor identified in some way on the page. In addition to improving cohesion among the course materials, I think it provides “behind the scenes” information that perhaps shouldn’t be so hidden. Connection to the people and educators behind Saylor.org is something our team is inerested in across departments. From a marketing perspective, this particular suggestion is in line with the strategy brands are using to engage with consumers…we just have to think in terms of students in order to encourage them through the learning process on our site.

      We defintely don’t consider your feedback critcism. The point is well taken and we appreciate your commitment. We see engagement as a huge opportunity on the site – if you have more suggestions/feedback on that matter, please don’t hesitate to email me. [email protected]

  5. While I think enhancing the current courses (especially adding periodic quizzes and assessments — maybe end of unit tests?) sounds great, I am disappointed to see how many Communications courses are being shelved. I’m taking the Media and Society class right now and am utterly, exuberantly immersed, and was disappointed to find out how few Communications classes there were to explore.

    1. Hi Christina,

      Thanks for your comment. I definitely hear you. As a marketing and communications enthusiast myself, I was sad to see this particular discipline effected (COMM204 especially). Though if you’re really interested in moving beyond our current courses, The Open University has a Diversity and Difference in Communication course that sounds pretty fascinating and MIT OCW has a few communication courses as well. I found these via Education Portal – check it out and let us know what you think.

      Thanks again for your feedback.


  6. I agree with Christina. While enhancing the visual experience is great, fixing the core of the academic curriculum is crucial.

    For example, the General Education program still has no French final exam and no Associate Certificate of Liberal Arts (or equivalent) for itself.

    Some majors, take Communications and Philosophy for example, are almost completely ignored! Also, the following core courses from different majors have no final exam, which means no diploma, thus making impossible for their graduates to properly present themselves as fully college graduates: ARTH101, BIO101L, BIO102L, ENGL202, PSYCH206 and others.

    I suppose many Saylor students are wondering when their future major will be made full and complete. This should be the top of the to-do list.

    1. Getting final exams on standard courses will be one of our priorities, although we still haven’t quite solved the “problem” of laboratory courses, which are inherently not meant to be ratified by a summative, multiple-choice exam. Perhaps some kind of community adjudicated portfolio (tricky if there is too small a community), or a way for us (Saylor.org) to acknowledge completion?

      For the COMM and PHIL majors — as well as a couple others such as Physics, further development is on hold. This is not happy news for a lot of people, we realize (philosophy has been getting press lately as a valid, marketable college major, while physics remains one of the more popular of the STEM fields).

      The Gen Ed program kind of is its own certificate, as you suggest, although that hasn’t been made explicit.

      French, on the other hand, is a whole different ball of wax. I’ll inquire into that some more and see what we’ll do with that (this question has been raised in discussion forums as well).

      1. Thank you for the reply. It is nice that Saylor is not abandoning its subjects. 🙂

        Regarding laboratory courses, I don’t think the “community adjudicated portfolio” would be a viable option (few students, even fewer experts in the domain, lots of subjectivity etc.), unless certified teachers are involved. Probably the best way would be a free (online) application–a kind of laboratory simulation able to grade the lab work.

        That said, there still remain the courses without laboratory practice which don’t have final exam, like ARTH101, ENGL202, French and others. It is good to know these are considered for very soon completion.

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