Tom's Two Cents

USU OpenCourseWare is a Virtual Visitor’s Center

USU OpenCourseWare is a Virtual Visitor’s Center

I’ve been talking to several schools about how they fund their OpenCourseWare programs. The more I do, the more I see that most OCWs are simply not going to make money. That is not their aim. So what does it mean to be sustainable or self-sustaining? Does it always involve making money? Gary Matkin, Dean of Continuing Education at UC Irvine, argues that a program like OCW can be self-sustaining as long as it provides enough value to justify its own existence at that institution. That  value can be seen in terms of outreach, marketing, but it has to be recognized and valued as such. So I wrote a letter to the USU Board of Trustees Marketing and Public Relations Committee, which I haven’t sent (yet). Let me know what you think.
Dear USU Board of Trustees Marketing and Public Relations Committee,
If you could build a university visitor’s center that would attract over a million different visitors in the first four years of operation — a center your could run maintain with just one or two employees that would draw thousands of learners from all over the world — If you could create such a place, how much would that be worth to you? Guess what? You already have it. It’s called USU OpenCourseWare, and it’s already paid for. So how much would you be willing to pay to keep this virtual visitor’s center working for you? Would it be worth $10,000 per month to attract 43,000 monthly visitors (not just random visitors, but people actively seeking educational content) to a USU website, ready to learn? That’s what it would cost to continue to develop USU’s OpenCourseWare site, adding new courses to the showcase each semester. Of course this site is more than a marketing effort. There is value for existing students and faculty to be able to access this course content as well — especially during Blackboard outages. OpenCourseWare courses are available without a password for anyone to use. And they are definitely being noticed. In fact, USU has an international reputation as one of the best OCWs in the world, especially for its agriculture course materials. USU OpenCourseWare is listed alongside MIT, Notre Dame, and Yale OCWs. So how do we justify paying $120,000 each year for an OpenCourseWare program? I would ask how we justify NOT paying for it.
In the past USU has advertised to random travelers in an airline magazine. Surely it must be worth more to attract an audience of learners to a USU website filled with high quality courses for them to examine. Which do you think will attract more prospective students and faculty, a site filled with course materials or an airline ad? So, now that the outside funding is gone, what is a site like USU OpenCourseWare worth in terms of marketing and PR? Is a USU site that consistently attracts 250,000 unique visitors each year worth keeping? Will USU spend its marketing budget on airline ads instead? Please support USU OpenCourseWare so it can continue to showcase content from scores of great USU courses to tens of thousands of interested visitors every month. Many of those virtual visitors will be seeking a degree sooner than you think.

9 thoughts on “USU OpenCourseWare is a Virtual Visitor’s Center

  1. David Wiley

    I think the problem of the moment is that every person on campus is asking, with regard to their specific program, “how do you justify NOT paying for it?” And yet things are being cut left and right. In a climate where serious conversations are being had about laying off faculty, I worry that you can't argue for a program on any merits other than “in addition to be useful, it brings in additional dollars.” But I'd love to be wrong.

  2. Pingback: Justifying OpenCourseWare «

  3. MarionJensen

    Great post. Although I've tracked as many as 50,000 unique visitors a month, so the site attracts closer to 500,000 to 500,000 visitors a month.

    Well said!

  4. Tom Caswell

    @Marion: I think you meant to say 500,000 visitors a _year_. I still have Google Analytics running for USU OCW, so I am seeing those same numbers. Impressive for an OCW that is not longer adding new content. Imagine if there was funding for new courses!

  5. Tom Caswell

    Thanks for commenting, David, but I don't want to stray too far from the context of my letter, which was directed at a marketing and PR committee. My point is that we have not made a strong enough case to these people. Marketing a university costs money, and the return on this investment is measured in eyeballs, visitors, or hits — not dollars. An established OpenCourseWare like USU OCW should be a line item because it provides more marketing bang for every buck. Smart organizations like Talis have figured this out and are now using their marketing budgets to fund interesting projects that will enhance their reputation (http://blogs.talis.com/education/incubator/). I realize this is all stuff you know, but I'm just putting it out there for others. There is more I could say about this. Yes, I think I feel another blog post coming on…

  6. MarionJensen

    Great post. Although I've tracked as many as 50,000 unique visitors a month, so the site attracts closer to 500,000 to 500,000 visitors a month.

    Well said!

  7. Tom Caswell

    @Marion: I think you meant to say 500,000 visitors a _year_. I still have Google Analytics running for USU OCW, so I am seeing those same numbers. Impressive for an OCW that is not longer adding new content. Imagine if there was funding for new courses!

  8. Tom Caswell

    Thanks for commenting, David, but I don't want to stray too far from the context of my letter, which was directed at a marketing and PR committee. My point is that we have not made a strong enough case to these people. Marketing a university costs money, and the return on this investment is measured in eyeballs, visitors, or hits — not dollars. An established OpenCourseWare like USU OCW should be a line item because it provides more marketing bang for every buck. Smart organizations like Talis have figured this out and are now using their marketing budgets to fund interesting projects that will enhance their reputation (http://blogs.talis.com/education/incubator/). I realize this is all stuff you know, but I'm just putting it out there for others. There is more I could say about this. Yes, I think I feel another blog post coming on…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *