MIT OpenCourseWare

With a noble nod to the Internet’s ability to spread knowledge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made most of its course material available on the Web- for free that is! The Website for the project, MIT OpenCourseWare, includes material such as lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, and assignments for each course. Over the next few years, the project expects to provide materials for more than 2,000 courses spanning MIT’s entire curriculum–in architecture and planning, engineering, humanities, arts, social sciences, management, and science.

“With the content posted for all to use, it provides an extraordinary resource, free of charge, which others can adapt to their own needs,” said MIT President Charles M. Vest, in a statement. “We see it as source material that will support education worldwide, including innovations in the process of teaching and learning itself.”

The project began as a pilot program for just two years, starting with the design of the necessary software and services, and the design of protocols to monitor and assess performance. By the end of the two-year period, MIT materials for more than 500 courses were available on the OpenCourseWare (OCW) Website.

The concept of OCW was developed by an MIT Council on Education Technology study group; the university charged the group to find ways to use Internet technology to complement education within MIT and expand MIT’s influence on a global scale.

Professor Steven Lerman, chairman of the MIT faculty, called the project a challenge to a growing “privatization of knowledge”, where many colleges and universities are using the Internet to merely make money by offering distance education courses.

“We also need to take advantage of the tremendous power of the Internet to build on the tradition at MIT and in American higher education of open dissemination of educational materials and innovations in teaching,” Lerman said in a statement.

Patti Richards, communications director for the MIT Lab for Computer Science, said each professor will have the option to make materials available on the website and will choose what to post. Most professors seemed eager to participate, according to Richards.

“There are always skeptics, but at the end of the day, the thing [these professors] are most serious about is teaching, and that is never going to go away,” said Richards. “This is not meant to take away from that– this isn’t any form of distant learning. In a way, this kind of frees them up so they can concentrate on teaching.” That sentiment was echoed by other faculty members in remarks posted on an OCW faculty comment page.

“Everybody knows that the way to make progress in science is by using the best results of others – ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ is one way of expressing this idea,” wrote electrical engineering professor Paul Penfield. “That’s why we publish scientific results. OCW will let the same thing happen in education. I’m personally looking forward to having my ideas used and improved on by others.”

Since MIT made the OCW announcement a couple of years ago, Richards said she has been overwhelmed by the number of enthusiastic responses she has received from around the world. “I’m getting emails from people all over the world blessing me, saying ‘Thank you for this incredibly noble effort,'” says Richards. “It taps into the best ways to use the Web. In a time when people are so cynical about using the Web for profits, or losing profits, this is… a bright spot.”