For John Wetzel, free education isn’t just a nice idea; it’s his livelihood. John runs WikiPremed, a free MCAT training course. All of his materials are licensed under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone to use and redistribute them, even commercially. Creative Commons licensing has helped it spread quickly — it now has 2,000 visitors a day.
According to John, allowing other people to use his materials hasn’t helped competitors; it’s created allies. “Just making it open makes the world your editor,” says Wetzel. “People see that you are trying to help students and they value that, and it makes them happy to help you.”
When John Wetzel offered his WikiPremed course freely to students preparing for the MCAT, he was not primarily addressing the high cost of MCAT preparatory services. He offered his highly integrated approach to reviewing science classes as a way to overcome what he saw as the compartmentalization of science education. The fact that it was free was a bonus.
Thanks to science fiction writer and open advocate Cory Doctorow, John shares WikiPremed content under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, which allows anyone to reuse the content for any purpose, commercial or noncommercial. John credits Cory’s advocacy with his move to CC licenses.
Aside from the fact that it’s free and openly licensed, what makes WikiPremed different from other premed curriculum? According to John, premed students are constantly getting ready for the “test of the week,” meaning that the takeaways from each unit aren’t very well contextualized. He first noted this gap while tutoring med school students. “Even the straight-A students didn’t get the connections between the biological sciences and chemistry and physics.”
Wetzel set out to create a new approach that not only prepared students for the MCAT, but also connected the dots in their science education. “I started creating a curriculum that taught the traditional subjects out of order to provide the basic knowledge needed to understand the interrelationships that were not evident when the subjects were taught alone.”
The WikiPremed MCAT Course was launched online in 2009 and now has 2,000 visitors a day. Students appreciate both the approach and that it is openly licensed and free to use. John keeps messages from students who contact him with their gratitude. Andrew Winegarner’s note captures their spirit of gratefulness:
I just wanted to thank you for doing this entire series. I suggested this site to everyone in the premed club at my university, and we now all use it as the main means to study for the MCAT. So, thank you so much for putting all of this online and for free as well. Many of my classmates were unable to afford Kaplan courses and so on, so this is a life saver to them, and several of the ones who have already taken the Kaplan course agree that this site provides a better and more robust study schedule.
John sees open licensing as an invitation for others to get involved and suggest improvements. The CC licenses let other experts poke around and suggest improvements that have made it a stronger product and curriculum. “Just making it open makes the world your editor,” said Wetzel. “People see that you are trying to help students and they value that, and it makes them happy to help you.” Because WikiPremed is CC-licensed, it also allows use of other CC-licensed work. “The biggest benefit in this regard is the availability of the biology images from Wikimedia Commons,” he says.
John has also managed to create a business model that draws on the same content to create products like MCAT flash cards, crossword puzzles, and even an MCAT board game. These products support him and his family and allow him to continually improve the content.
Cory Doctorow’s philosophy also inspired John to structure his business in “the most open way possible.” In John’s words, “Improving science education seems so important to our collective future that if you have something valuable to add, you should, and then allow people to take advantage of it by making it openly available.”
Someday soon, the world will be full of doctors with a better understanding of science because John Wetzel shared his knowledge in the most open way possible.
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John Wetzel (Team Open) was written by David Kindler for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The illustration of John Wetzel was created by Luke Surl. To the extent possible under the law, Luke Surl has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration.