This is an article for the next Student Times. I need to edit it but I’m really sleepy right now.
Any Sri Lankan with a pulse and dialtone can follow courses like ‘Aerospace Engineering,’ ‘Brain and Cognitive Sciences’ and ‘Game Theory for Managers’ through MIT’s OpenCourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu). This is the real Slim Shady too, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The online offerings range from video/audio lectures, course notes, assignments and even exams. The only exceptions are faculty contact and books – which are important caveats. On the whole, though, this is an incredible opportunity for anyone driven to learn.
*What Is It?*
MIT OpenCourseWare is a website – http://ocw.mit.edu. Most universities use the web to share the course syllabus, notes, and assignments with hundreds of students. MIT is much the same, except there is no login. Anyone can freely browse a catalog of over 900 courses and access the same materials as MIT students. Their goal is to put virtually every MIT undergraduate and graduate course online by 2008.
If you look around you can click the Department that interest you on the left sidebar. To explore, we’ll click on ‘Economics’. There are a ton of courses listed, we’ll click ‘Economic Applications of Game Theory’. This course includes a syllabus, reading list, calendar, and weeks of lecture notes and slides. It even includes problem sets and practice exams. I could theoretically find the books and follow this course week-by-week from home.
Other courses may have more or less material. Some have no notes, while others have full video lectures. One of the best departments is Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which goes into great detail – often enabling you to do the same projects as MIT students.
*What Isn’t It?*
OpenCourseWare is not distance learning. It does not grant degrees and it does not provide access to faculty. Few courses include the readings, which are usually important. For departments like Math and ComSci the course notes and online materials are extensive, but for departments like Women’s Studies the offline readings are vital. If you’re serious you’re going to need to buy a few (expensive) books off amazon.com or somewhere. OpenCourseWare provides the basic artifacts of a course, but it is not a course in itself.
*Why Is MIT Doing This?*
OpenCourseWare is line with MIT’s mission ‘to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century’. MIT’s own students use the site, and it is open to the nation and world.
*How Does It Work?*
The part you’d see is the website, which displays all the material. Technology from Akamai enables MIT to serve huge amounts of video, audio and text to thousands every day. Under the hood there is a robust Content Management System, which pulls information from Professors and Teaching Assistants themselves – through desktop clients.
*Who Is Using OpenCourseWare?*
Besides self-learners all over the world, specific organizations are translating MIT knowledge and implementing OpenCourseWare in their schools. Chinese Open Resources for Education (CORE) is a consortium of Chinese colleges and universities that’s offering access to translated materials over the next 5 years. In Latin America, Spain, and Portugal Universia is implementing OpenCourseWare with over 720 colleges and universities.
*Who Pays For This?*
The bandwidth and Content Management System definitely cost money. There is also a four person team implementing the infrastructure. That bill is footed by William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and MIT, among other donors.
*Is It Legal?*
Fully. OpenCourseWare is under a Creative Commons license, fast becoming the web-standard for copyright. A Creative Commons license is actually called copyleft because the goal is to preserve user rights rather than take them away. The fine print states, in summary,
“In accordance with the terms of the MIT OCW Creative Commons license, you must give credit to MIT and the faculty author of the course materials anytime you use MIT OCW materials. However, any reference to MIT (including the MIT name in any of its forms or MIT seals or logos) that deliberately or inadvertently claims, suggests, or in MIT’s sole judgment gives the appearance or impression of a relationship with or endorsement by MIT, is prohibited.”
In short, students can use the material for self-study and teachers can use OpenCourseWare for developing their own lessons. What teachers need to know is that “use of MIT OCW materials is open to all except for profit-making entities who charge a fee for access to educational materials.” This means that educators can replicate an MIT Course in Sri Lanka, legally. You cannot offer MIT certification, but you can bring lessons up to international standards.
*Can I Join A Class?*
Not through OpenCourseWare itself. There are experiments in online forums from through Open Learning Support (OLS). This venture is “social software” that enables communities to form around the content of OpenCourseWare. The best method for Sri Lanka would be if local classes utilized the MIT materials and enabled local communities to form around the knowledge.
*Can I Do This Now?*
Yes. If you are driven to learn you can go to http://ocw.mit.edu. If you are driven to teach you can go to http://ocw.mit.edu. Whether you’re in Sri Lanka or Alabama you can use education to make a better (richer) future for yourself. If you want the best educational materials in the world, MIT’s OpenCourseWare is right there.