The Open Syllabus Project aims to transform academic thinking

open-syllabusAs the social web has evolved, teaching has become an increasingly collaborative endeavor, with a wide range of platforms emerging to support the sharing of lesson plans as well as assorted tips and tricks of the trade.

One of the more ambitious of these projects is the Open Syllabus Project, which aims to make it easier to share college course syllabuses.

The origins of the project

The project was born out of the frustration with how so many syllabuses are treated, with many lost to the ether when they’re no longer in use.  If they are retained in an archive, they’re hardly ever shared outside the faculty walls.

So, the Open Syllabus Project set out to change all that.  To date, they’ve collected approximately 1 million syllabuses from university websites.  They’ve began applying meta tags to that data, including their subject, texts used, school and date.

To ease the searching of this data, a Syllabus Explorer tool was launched earlier this year.  For instance, the tool will allow teachers to gauge how often a text has been used.  For instance, Republic currently sits in 2nd spot, with The Communist Manifesto just behind it.

A long tail

Of course, it isn’t just looking at non-fiction books, with fiction books and articles also included in the database.  Collectively there are 933,000 works included in the database, with around half of these only used once.

Suffice to say, there are various possible uses of this data, such providing authors with a window into usage of their work.  The team hope to provide a publication metric that’s based on the frequency with which a text is taught.

The project team hope that this score will provide a more rounded insight into the dissemination of a work than traditional citation metrics or journal impact factors.

By providing a ‘teaching score’ the team hope that it shifts the focus of academics towards the dissemination of their work in a way that citations don’t.  By reflecting qualities that are useful in a classroom, they hope that it will encourage academics to improve the accessibility and clarity of their work.

Suffice to say, the project isn’t designed to replace citations or the various other means of measuring impact, but rather to augment it and provide a richer context to academic work.

As the data used in the project grows, the team hope that the results returned will be even more valuable.  It’s also hoped that the project, and the value derived from it, will encourage more schools to adopt an open approach to their curriculums.

It’s certainly an interesting project and very much in keeping with recent moves to make teaching a more open and collaborative endeavor, whether that’s in the classroom itself or in the academic publishing world.

It will be fascinating to follow its progress and see just what kind of impact it can make.


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