Open Course Ware

Some days ago, Wired published a story on MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative :

Every lecture, every handout, every quiz. All online. For free. Meet the global geeks getting an MIT education, open source-style.

When MIT announced to the world in April 2001 that it would be posting the content of some 2,000 classes on the Web, it hoped the program – dubbed OpenCourseWare – would spur a worldwide movement among educators to share knowledge and improve teaching methods. No institution of higher learning had ever proposed anything as revolutionary, or as daunting. MIT would make everything, from video lectures and class notes to tests and course outlines, available to any joker with a browser.

The academic world was shocked by MIT’s audacity – and skeptical of the experiment. At a time when most enterprises were racing to profit from the Internet and universities were peddling every conceivable variant of distance learning, here was the pinnacle of technology and science education ready to give it away. Not the degrees, which now cost about $41,000 a year, but the content. No registration required.

Soon foundation money was gushing in to support the initiative. MIT earned the distinction as the only university forward-thinking enough to open-source itself. To test the concept, the university posted 50 courses last year. In September, as students arrive on the Cambridge campus for the start of school, MIT will officially launch OpenCourseWare with 500 courses… The school expects to add the remaining 1,500 courses over the next three years. If the pilot program is any indication, students from Nepal to Nebraska will be diving into the material.

The obvious question : What is MIT thinking?!

Like many other universities, MIT had ambitions for making money in the distance-learning business. It called in a consultant to scope out the terrain, and in 2000, Booz Allen Hamilton reported that MIT had missed the wave. That’s when a group of faculty members and administrators – Hal Abelson, Steven Lerman, Toby Woll and Dick Yue – hit upon the idea of posting all courses online, free and available to all.

MIT administrators and professors are quick to note that the Web is no substitute for the experience of learning in a top-tier academic setting. “OpenCourseWare is a snapshot of the way a particular subject in a particular discipline was taught at one period in time at MIT,” says project director Margulies. “It isn’t an MIT education.”

I don’t know about you, but I think the “snapshot of how a particular subject was taught” should be good enough for a lot of folks out there.

You can find all the information you want on the MIT’s OpenCourseWare site. According to the official word : “People are free to use, modify, translate, and distribute OpenCourseWare as long as they don’t try to make a buck from it.”

Here’s to the Open Source movement !