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Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses Hardcover – January 17, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2012 Philip E. Frandson Award for Literature in the Field of Continuing Higher Education, University Professional and Continuing Education Association

"By now, books, articles and blogs about the virtues and vices of online distance learning are hardly new, and are frequently repetitive. But Taylor Walsh's Unlocking the Gates is different. She analyses in great detail the varied experiences of a small number of elite US, UK and Indian universities that, starting in 1999, began to offer some, if not all, of their undergraduate courses online to varying audiences. Walsh has done extensive research--including interviews with 87 educational and business leaders--in this pioneering, unbiased study. . . . A solid, pioneering contribution to the study of online higher education and will surely become the benchmark for later studies."--Howard P. Segal, Times Higher Education

"For anyone looking for an insight into some of the issues lying underneath western higher education, they would do well to pick up a copy of Unlocking the Gates. Taylor Walsh's work may only focus on one particular phenomenon but it acts as a lens through which to examine some key challenges facing institutions: how to have a global impact whilst also serving your local students, how to do more with less in times of reducing budgets and endowments, and how higher education can and should change to become fit for the 21st century."--Rachel Dearlove, Impact of Social Sciences, London School of Economics blog

"The enabling of open access to learning materials from a range of international higher education providers, at least those that choose to share, means that, provided the technology exists to enable access, potential scholars from around the world can use them to learn and grow in ways not previously available to them. And that it why it is worth reading this book."--Kevin Ashford-Rowe, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management

"Walsh's book stimulates reflection. . . . Too, it provides substantial reality testing with respect to the large number of practical issues spawned by the OER movement."--Donald J. Foss, PsycCRITIQUES

"The book is an eye-opener, supported by ample footnotes and extensive interviews (if not with enthusiastic users like myself), as well as financial records and others sources."--John Wilinsky, Teachers College Record

"The [book] is a rich portrait of the history and prospects of these courseware efforts, the aspirations and concerns of their principals, their academic content and connections to their sponsoring universities, and their contrasting business models. While the author's sensibility and vocabulary come from management (rather than, say, technology, education, or sociology), the book should be accessible to readers from a wide range of backgrounds."--Mary Taylor Huber, Change

From the Back Cover

"Presidents and provosts can't afford to ignore the open/online courseware developments analyzed by Taylor Walsh in Unlocking the Gates. Walsh's exploration of leading initiatives in the open sharing of digital course materials makes it clear that the unbundling of materials creation, course design, and pedagogy is well underway and will have profound implications for the structure of faculty work. That is, the gates are not just unlocked: the barn door is standing wide open."--Jo Ellen Parker, president of Sweet Briar College

"I have been on record for some time as being skeptical about the likely effects on productivity in higher education of various new technologies. . . . But the evidence that Walsh presents about the work at Carnegie Mellon has caused me to re-think my position. . . . Unlocking the Gates is a splendid introduction to a fascinating and fast-changing world. Unless I am badly mistaken, over time all sectors of higher education will be affected in one way or another by what are truly transformational changes in the way knowledge is created and disseminated. Now that increasing numbers of universities, including some of the most prestigious, are using technology to let the world into their precincts, it will never again be possible to lock the gates."--from the foreword by William G. Bowen, president emeritus, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Princeton University

"New technologies and budget austerity have increased the urgency to experiment with online learning in higher education, both on campus and distance learning. It is extremely timely that Taylor Walsh presents and analyzes case studies of selective universities' attempts to develop online courseware. There is very much to be learned about business models, the hopes and fears of faculty and administrators, and the organizational structures and cultures of the universities involved from these clearly written and always provocative studies of Yale, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, Columbia, and a program in India. Unlocking the Gates will be essential reading for those interested in online learning, indeed for those thinking about the evolution of higher education in the United States and globally."--Henry Bienen, president emeritus, Northwestern University

"This book tells an interesting and important story. The research is fabulous and probing, and the storyline is wonderfully focused on leadership and the decisions it makes in circumstances that are constantly evolving and uncertain."--Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning, programs, and coordination, University of California

"Unlocking the Gates tells the story of how a number of selective universities are venturing into the world of online education. Taylor Walsh explores the motivations, successes and failures, and prospects of these projects, asking whether they are worthy in their own right and whether they are the right moves for these universities."--Saul Fisher, associate provost, Hunter College, City University of New York


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; y First printing edition (January 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691148740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691148748
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,676,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on March 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Unlocking the Gates" is intended to summarize the status and activity to-date of online education in higher education. Universities spend fortunes developing reputations for their coursework. Now some are making that material freely available on-line for non-credit use by the general public.

Back in the late 1990s, early leaders Fathom (Columbia University, led by Michael Crow - now at A.S.U.) and AllLearn (Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale) both failed, demonstrating, per author Taylor Walsh (analyst at Ithaka S+R), that enrichment courses aren't a viable profit-making exercise. 'Fathom' was organized as a profit-making business, funded with about $25 million over three years. It was aimed at lifelong learners with the means to pay for general enrichment courses. Over 600 courses ($50 - $500), and 80,000+ seminars, articles, etc. were made available, spread over 10 disciplines. While the site had lots of visitors, there were practically no sales. Subsequent shorter and cheaper modules were also unsuccessful. Some of Columbia's faculty were in opposition, seeing the experiment as a waste of money. A change in Columbia's top administration resulted in closing down both Fathom and Biosphere 2 (another Crow venture).

Author Walsh also contends that it is difficult to gauge the impact of these free resources - we lack benchmarks and metrics. She does, however, report the results from an experiment at Carnegie Mellon. They gave both a control (regular classroom) and experimental (Open Learning Initiative [OLI] recorded material) group the same final, and found that students using OLI did just as well, if not better.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Had high hopes; none were met by this uncritical, unreflective, tired-from-the-first-page history of top-down "big iron" efforts in online education.
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By MZR on September 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you think the Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from the likes of Coursera ([...]), edX ([...]), and Udacity ([...]) are a big deal, you should read this book.

"Unlocking the Gates" is the origin story for the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. It consists of a series of case studies of the projects, such as MIT OpenCourseWare (ocw.mit.edu), that popularized the idea that universities should give away knowledge for free.

That idea was the basis for the MOOCs, which have now been embraced by Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Penn, and Duke, along with the pioneers at MIT. MIT has extended the OpenCourseWare project to MITx, which provides whole courses that culminate in a certificate ([...]).

"Unlocking the Gates" was the first book-length treatment of this movement. It was the first book to flag this as important for education policy. Future historians of education will read this book to try to understand a turning point that happened around the turn of the millennium.

If you don't want to take my word that this is an important book, check with Bill Gates, who selected it for his blog:

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