What do you mean, “open”?

From very early on in my university teaching career, I’ve tried to make the materials in my courses openly accessible. This started by simply publishing my syllabi to the web, and has evolved to opening up all (or almost all) of the materials in the course, and more recently accepting non-registered participants into courses. That is, most of my courses are “open.” Few have taken me up on this more active opening process, and so I thought I should explain it in more detail.


All learning is, in some sense, autodidactic. This is particularly true of reading: one of the best ways we have to communicate with the most brilliant minds, even when they are long dead. I don’t pretend to be one of those brilliant minds, but I am happy to talk to whoever will listen. So, as I build courses, I try to include materials that can be viewed by as many people as possible. This means creating video and audio lectures that are free of charge to watch, and available out on the web in various ways.

These are intended for you to use to learn more about a topic, and to teach others. My restrictions, expressed through a Creative Commons license, are that you shouldn’t profit from the materials by selling them, and you should make clear that I am the author. While part of the reason I do this is because access to knowledge is an important contribution I can make to humanity, it is also a selfish act. I’m hoping that the widespread distribution and use of these materials will bring glory to me and to my university. But I also hope they will bring something equally important: good conversations.


I also invite you to come into our classroom, at least the part of our classroom that is online. (If you try to come into my physical classroom without a direct invite, you are likely to be tackled by overzealous security guards.) I believe not only “the more the merrier,” but “the more the smarter.” Now, you might say, shouldn’t classes–especially grad classes–be the purview of the intellectual elite?

I’m not sure I am in the best position to judge how smart anyone is, but I do know that the best students I’ve had are the ones who are interested in learning the material of the course more than any extraneous (grades, credit) rewards. So, I figure that if you want to be part of the class, you are welcome to, within the bounds of any limited resources. What does that mean?

Well, obviously QU students come first, and occasionally those courses are already way bigger than they should be. In that case, I may not have time to look at your work. These are, after all, donated cycles of my time, and therefore I can’t guarantee them. Likewise, if there is something (other than my time) that the university provides directly, I clearly cannot pass that benefit on to students in the class who are not matriculating at QU.

As a practical concern, I’m sure that there are other reasons someone might not be included, but I can’t think of them now. I guess, although IANAL, I can fake it: you’re part of the class only insofar as I decide you are, and I can boot you at any time.


While I know you are the sort of person for whom academic credit just doesn’t matter, for some people it does. Luckily, there are two options for doing work in once of my classes without becoming a student at QU. The first is to sign up through QU Online to take the course as a non-matriculating student. This makes you a bona fide member of the course from QU’s perspective, and gets you credit that you may be able to transfer to another graduate program. (Note, most graduate programs have a limit of transfer credit, including ours, even if you take the courses here. That is, there are only so many you can take as a non-matric student and still have it count if you decide to apply to the degree program.)

The second way you can do this is to reach an agreement with your supervisor to take directed study credits from her at your home university, while engaging in the coursework in my class. Show her the syllabus and other materials, and she will check your progress. I’m happy to coordinate with her directly on this, if you like.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or comment below if you have questions. I hope to see you in my courses!

Update 6/20: Had a couple of requests for “what courses are you talking about?” I actually wrote the above with the intent of linking to it from future courses, including a writing course next month, and my “Intro to Interactive” and a course based on extrapolating out some of the issues from Little Brother that I’m teaching in the fall. However, the two courses I taught in the spring were open as well:

Web Programming (ICM 505)
Search Engine Society (ICM 542)

I’ll be revising and teaching the former again this spring, and the latter is in a bit of limbo. I’ll link to future courses when they are ready.

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