Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Open courseware at MIT and beyond

Kim Thomas, MIT sets learning free, Information World Review, June 4, 2007.  Excerpt:

In the late 1990s, when everybody wanted to take advantage of the money-making opportunities offered by the internet, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) decided that it, too, wanted a slice of the action. MIT was, and still is, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Couldn’t it use some of the intellectual property it was creating on its campus to generate some additional revenue?

A committee of faculty members looked at the issue but decided, after careful consideration, that the internet didn’t offer much of an opportunity to make money, after all. Why not, the committee suggested, focus instead on the university’s core mission: “to advance education and serve the world”?

That refocus led MIT to a radical new proposition. In the words of Anne Margulies, now executive director of MIT Open CourseWare (OCW), “They decided that the best way the internet could be used to fulfil that mission would be to give the materials away.” ...

In 2002, MIT launched its Open CourseWare site with materials from 32 courses in 16 academic departments. This has since expanded to include materials from 1,550 courses, including not just course notes but audio and visual materials too. By the end of this year, material from all 1,800 courses run by MIT will be available online.

According to Margulies, the facility has proved immensely popular. In January this year, the site received 1.5 million visits from all over the world, 60% of which came from outside the US, with India and China the biggest users. MIT is now partnering with other organisations to translate its OCW materials: about 400 courses are currently available in other languages besides English.

Where MIT has led, the rest of the world has been keen to follow. There are now 60 higher education institutions offering open courseware programmes, including several universities in the US, China and Europe. These institutions, as well as around 60 more that are at the planning stage, have formed the Open Courseware Consortium to share ideas and experiences....

The most striking feature of the open courseware movement is that it requires a fundamental switch in institutions’ approach to information, one shared by the open access movement in scholarly publishing. You might expect academics to be keen to protect and copyright course materials that are the product of years of research and teaching experience. Yet all members of the open courseware consortium make their course materials available under a Creative Commons licence, in which people can use the materials freely, provided they accredit the institution as the source of the material and do not use it for profit....

Perhaps it is this global reach of the open courseware movement that offers the most radical challenge to the traditional localised method of delivering education. Some of the Open Courseware Consortium’s members are experimenting with new models. Universia, for example, is a collaboration between a number of Spanish and Latin American universities, funded by the Bank of Santander. Its country-specific web portals, which offer information about higher education, such as available courses and grants, already attract six million visitors each month. It was ideally placed, therefore, to provide open courseware, and for the past four years has been translating MIT’s open courseware into Spanish and putting it online. As a result, many of the member universities, says Pedro Aranzadi, Universia’s managing director, saw the benefits of putting their own courseware online, and Universia has just launched 10 open courseware sites supplied by Spanish universities....

“If you’re dealing with a knowledge society, the best thing you can do is make knowledge freely available,” Kirschner says.