Oct 01

MIT Open Courseware

I think the MIT Open Courseware project is laudable, but I’ve never understood why everyone focuses on the free availability of their collection of syllabi, notes, course reading lists, etc. Professors have been doing this sort of online publishing for their classes for years. UT has been maintaining a list of all free university online course materials in the World Lecture Hall (WLH) since around 1995. Of course, as with most projects that began in that time period with the enthusiastic cry of “hey, let’s make a list of all the [insert subject] sites on the Web,” the WLH is a bit spotty and might be suffering from link rot.

Most students aren’t surprised when a large portion of class related material is online. As I learned last spring, when I took an undergraduate level course at Columbia, everyone expects all information a professor shows in class to be available on the web same day. (Kids these days! Why, when I was your age we got the info off the transparencies in class or we didn’t get it at all.)

I don’t understand why everyone is astounded that MIT is giving it away. Do you think that these notes are a substitute for sitting in on the lecture and participating in a discussion? These class notes are valuable as a review and are typical of the sort of materials most professors do their best to make freely available on the Web. Other universities are trying to pull together their professors’ course materials, too.

The revolutionary action that MIT has taken is that they have provided the support their faculty needs to publish, and they have enlisted excellent designers to provide a seamless, browsable, interface to these course materials.

Most professors want to make their course materials available, but they don’t have the time, knowledge, or skill to build a site. I remember walking one particularly brilliant professor through the file upload process. He was extremely frustrated because, well, for him nanotechnology = easy, WS_FTP = hard.

Of course dealing with all the copyright issues must of been a challenge for MIT as well. When universities restrict access to online course materials, it’s almost always because they are using images, text or video for which they don’t own the copyright. If they restrict access to just those enrolled in the course, it falls under “fair use.” They aren’t denying you access because they think you’ll change your mind about tossing all that money away on tuition now that you can get all that information for free.

It is surprising, though, that some administrator at MIT didn’t derail the project with the misguided notion that charging for access to these materials might be an additional stream of revenue. OK, perhaps I do understand everyone’s astonishment.


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6:21 AM on Oct 1, 2002

Open Courseware Revisited — I\'ve found this article on MIT Open Courseware at PixelCharmer. More »

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