[LIS-Forum] How to go to M.I.T. for free
subbiah_a at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 4 13:27:51 IST 2007
>From Christian Science Monitor, 4 January 2007
How to go to M.I.T. for free
Online 'intellectual philanthropy' attracts students
from every nation on earth.
By Gregory M. Lamb | Staff writer of The Christian
By the end of this year, the contents of all 1,800
courses taught at one of the world's most prestigious
universities will be available online to anyone in the
world, anywhere in the world. Learners won't have to
register for the classes, and everyone is accepted.
The cost? It's all free of charge.
The OpenCourseWare movement, begun at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002
and now spread to some 120 other universities
worldwide, aims to disperse knowledge far beyond the
ivy-clad walls of elite campuses to anyone who has an
Internet connection and a desire to learn.
Intended as an act of "intellectual philanthropy,"
OpenCourseWare (OCW) provides free access to course
materials such as syllabi, video or audio lectures,
notes, homework assignments, illustrations, and so on.
So far, by giving away their content, the universities
aren't discouraging students from enrolling as
students. Instead, the online materials appear to be
only whetting appetites for more.
"We believe strongly that education can be best
advanced when knowledge is shared openly and freely,"
says Anne Margulies, executive director of the OCW
program at MIT. "MIT is using the power of the
Internet to give away all of the educational materials
The MIT site (ocw.mit.edu), along with companion sites
that translate the material into other languages, now
average about 1.4 million visits per month from
learners "in every single country on the planet," Ms.
Margulies says. Those include Iraq, Darfur, "even
Antarctica," she says. "We hear from [the online
students] all the time with inspirational stories
about how they are using these materials to change
their lives. They're really, really motivated."
So-called "distance learning" over the Internet isn't
new. Students have been able to pay for online courses
at many institutions, either to receive credit or
simply as a noncredit adult-learning experience. Many
universities also offer free podcasts (audio or
sometimes video material delivered via the Internet).
But the sheer volume and variety of the educational
materials being released by MIT and its OCW
collaborators is nothing less than stunning.
For example, each of the 29 courses that Tufts
University in Medford, Mass., has put online so far is
"literally the size of a textbook," says Mary Lee,
associate provost and point person for the OCW effort
there. The material provides much more than "a
skeleton of a course," she says. Visitors to Tufts'
OCW course on "Wildlife Medicine" call it is the most
comprehensive website on that topic in the world, Dr.
What OCW is not, its supporters agree, is a substitute
for attending a university.
For one thing, OCW learners aren't able to receive
feedback from a professor - or to discuss the course
with fellow students. A college education is "really
the total package of students interacting with other
students, forming networks, interacting with faculty,
and that whole environment of being associated with
the school," says James Yager, a senior associate dean
at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns
Hopkins University in Baltimore. He oversees the OCW
program there. His school of public health now offers
nearly 40 of its most popular courses for free via
OCW. The school's goal is to put 90 to 100 of its 200
or so core courses online within the next year or so.
In November, learners from places such as Taiwan,
Britain, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Japan, and the
Netherlands logged some 80,000 page views of OCW
course material, Dr. Yager says.
MIT's initiative began with the idea of giving faculty
at other universities access to how professors at MIT
approached teaching a subject. But after the OCW
project went online, the school quickly realized it
had two other huge constituencies: students at other
colleges, who wanted to augment what they were
learning, and "self learners," those not pursuing a
formal education but interested in increasing their
Along with course content, MIT also wanted to showcase
its teaching methods. Many schools follow a
traditional model, teaching the theory first, then
allowing students to practice what they've learned.
MIT has a "practice, theory, practice" way of
teaching, Margulies says, that aims to get students
engaged and energized immediately - before delving
much into theory.
Younes Attaourti, a physics professor in Marrakesh,
Morocco, stumbled upon MIT's OCW site while surfing
the Net. He's used the materials as the basis for
courses he's taught on statistical physics and quantum
theory of fields. And for his own learning, he's
downloaded theoretical physics courses and one on
ultrafast optics. "I don't think there is another
university elsewhere in the world that is more
generous," he writes in an e-mail: "[T]his is the
first time that many people around the world are able
to have access to top-quality courses."
Phillipa Williams is an adult (40-something) student
at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New
Zealand, studying mathematics ("don't groan, I love
it!" she writes in an e-mail). She's worked her way
through many of the OCW undergraduate mathematics
courses, she says, because they provide "a different
viewpoint, another explanation of material," as well
as different practice questions.
MIT's OCW website features even more glowing feedback
from learners. "[B]ecause of money, many good students
with great talent and [who are] diligent do not have
the chance to learn the newest knowledge and
understanding of the universe," says Chen Zhiying, a
student in the People's Republic of China. "But now,
due to the OCW, the knowledge will spread to more and
more people, and it will benefit the whole [world of]
"The MIT OCW program is a generous and far-sighted
initiative that will do more to change the world for
the better than a thousand Iraq-style invasions," the
MIT site quotes Leigh Pascoe, a self-learner in Paris,
as saying. "It does much to restore my faith in the
enlightenment of the American people and their great
experiment in democracy. This program should be
emulated by every university worthy of the name."
Besides MIT, Tufts, and Johns Hopkins, the OCW
consortium (ocwconsor tium.org) in the United States
includes among its members Michigan State, Michigan,
Notre Dame, and Utah State. Internationally, members
include groups of universities in China, Japan, and
So far MIT has published 1,550 of its courses for OCW
and plans to get the rest online by the end of this
year. The materials for each course vary. Full videos
of lectures, one of the most popular features, are
available for only 26 courses, about 1,000 hours of
video in all. "We'd like to do more video because it's
really quite popular and our users love it," Marguiles
says. "But it's quite expensive." The program relies
on "generous support" from foundations, individuals,
and MIT itself for funding, she says.
Schools like Tufts and Johns Hopkins were able to
jump-start their OCW programs quickly because the
schools had already committed themselves for many
years to putting all their classroom materials online
for use by their own students. The biggest job has
been to vet the materials for copyright issues,
so-called "copyright scrubbing," Lee and Yager say. If
permission cannot be obtained for a specific photo or
chart, it must be left out of the OCW version or a
The OCW effort is part of a wide range of dynamic
educational content emerging on the Internet, says Dan
Colman, associate dean and director of Stanford
University's continuing studies program and host of
the website oculture.com, which highlights what's
happening in Web-based education, with an emphasis on
Full-fledged online courses "might eventually offer a
viable alternative to the classroom, but right now we
have a ways to go," he writes via e-mail. Podcasts,
for example, let learners hear a lecture, but they
don't require that the listener write a critical essay
or take part in a classroom discussion - activities
that are a key element of the learning process, Mr.
And technology still needs to advance a bit more too.
"We'll need a very fast fiber network and
communication tools that give courses a greater degree
of immediacy and sociability before this [online]
model will become a real option educationally and
economically," he says. "In the meantime, the
traditional classroom is fairly safe."
For example, lab work, which usually requires close
hands-on collaboration between an instructor and
students, remains problematic online, Yager points
The losers in putting free content online aren't
likely to be universities, which will continue to
attract young students, Colman says. But free podcasts
and OCW courses may pull adult learners away from
other leisure activities, he says, such as reading
books, watching educational television shows, or
buying recordings of books or lectures. "All of these
entities could suffer as users find free high-quality
information on the Web," Colman says.
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