Asee peer logo

To See Or Not To See: Access Restrictions On Course Web Sites

Download Paper |


2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Computers in Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1209.1 - 7.1209.7



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Edward Gehringer

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Main Menu Session 1520

To See or not to See: Access Restrictions on Course Web Sites Edward F. Gehringer North Carolina State University


Last November’s issue of ASEE Prism had a cover story [1] on the MIT Open Courseware Initiative. MIT attracted widespread attention earlier in 2001 for its decision to make all its course Web sites publicly available over the Web. However, not everyone is following suit. The number of courses with access restrictions has surged in the past year, with perhaps the majority of course sites now having some restriction that prevents non-students from accessing them.

Certainly, some kinds of materials should not be publicly accessible. Solutions to textbook problems are an example. Aside from the problem of copyright infringement, it also makes it possible for students at other institutions to “do” their homework by surfing the Web. But many instructors restrict much more than solutions. Some keep their work under wraps because they worry that it is not polished enough for public consumption. Others restrict because that's the default in their courseware management system (e.g., WebCT). Finally, some universities are moving to assert ownership over course materials developed by faculty, and require them to be licensed instead of given away. This is not widespread at the moment, but will be an increasing problem as online assessment and testing systems become more commonplace. This paper will explore the reasons for restricting course materials, the current extent, and the implications of such restrictions.

1. Introduction

In the process of working on our Course Database project [2, 3], we have occasion to visit many course Web sites. Recently we have been noticing that many of them are hiding behind passwords, inaccessible to the public eye. This is a discouraging development, for it seems that the relatively open world of academe is becoming more cloistered. In practical terms, it means that if I or my students surf the Web for new material related to our fields of study, we are likely to find less material, or older material. Consequently, my students will get less help in their studying, and I will get less help in updating my lectures. It is a shame that the Web, which once gave us access to a whole new world of information, is now beginning to snatch it away.

When someone declines to furnish material for our course database, we ask why. We have been finding two reasons [3]: Copyright concerns—some instructors had taken their material from textbooks, and some of them were thinking of including it in books they were writing—and diffidence—many instructors just simply didn’t think that their work was good enough to be viewed by people at other schools. Both of these would seem to motivate instructors to keep their material out of public view on the Web.

In conversations with colleagues, we learned of other reasons. One such reason was universities’ desire to commercialize their courses [4]. This has been dubbed the “second academic revolution” by sociologist Henry Etzkowitz; the university’s traditional interest in the

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

Main Menu

Gehringer, E. (2002, June), To See Or Not To See: Access Restrictions On Course Web Sites Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10766

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2002 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015