September 12, 2003
MIT gives it away

Nancy Lebowitz has just commented on the posting immediately below, and included a link to the MIT OCW (that's Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare) site. It's a long time since I've been so impressed by an educational website, of any sort.

Welcome to MIT OpenCourseWare a free, open, publication of MIT Course Materials. We invite you to view all the courses available at this time.

I went to the FAQ page.

1. What is MIT OpenCourseWare?

The idea behind MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is to make MIT course materials that are used in the teaching of almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects available on the Web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world. MIT OCW will advance technology-enhanced education at MIT, and will serve as a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age. This venture continues the tradition at MIT, and in American higher education, of open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy, and modes of thought, and will help lead to fundamental changes in the way colleges and universities utilize the Web as a vehicle for education.

Free of charge. That was the bit that got my attention. That's what Nancy had said, but there it was in black and white, with them saying it. That means, among a million other good things, that blogs can link there way right into the middle of this stuff.

Well, I assume they can. And I do that because the whole site just oozes the feeling that these people know exactly what they are doing, and, equally important, what they are not doing. They are dishing out course materials. They are not going to tell anyone on your behalf that you have paid any attention to them, nor, in general, do they offer to preside over your education.

If you want to have an email correspondence with your preferred MIT faculty member, forget it.

2. How do I contact a specific member of the MIT Faculty?

MIT OCW is intended as a publication of MIT course materials on the Web, and not as an interactive experience with MIT faculty. It provides the content of, but is not a substitute for, an MIT education. The most fundamental cornerstone of the learning process at MIT is the interaction between faculty and students in the classroom, and among students themselves on campus. MIT OCW does not offer visitors to the Web site the opportunity for direct contact with MIT faculty. Inquiries related to specific course materials will be forwarded to the MIT faculty member associated with that course for their consideration. However, due to the tremendous volume of email inquiries received, it is unlikely he or she will answer all emails.

I've heard about this in a vague way, but have never even properly scratched the surface of the website before. I am extremely impressed. I'll be back. In fact I left a comment there saying this.

In general, I think that we can expect many more major institutions with world-wide reputations (and not just educational institutions) to just give stuff away. The BBC, for instance, has recently said that it may be about to do this.

Meanwhile the educational impact of this particular MIT give-away can only be guessed at.

My deepest thanks to Nancy, and particularly for the URL.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:42 PM
Category: The internet