MIT Puts Course Material On Web

For stay-at-home parents, motivated teachers and students overseas, a top-notch education is now only a click away.

MIT is proceeding with the next phase of its “distance learning” project, the OpenCourseWare (OCW) Initiative and if the $100 million, 10-year plan is successful, lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists and assignments for all of MIT’s courses will be accessible on-line at no cost.

The OCW initiative will allow people to access the source materials MIT students use, but will not offer correspondence courses.

OCW represents a growing trend in what is termed “distance learning,” which involves offering courses or course materials to an on-line audience.

Laura Koller, head of the OCW Transition Project Team, said that the experimental stage of this initiative is slated to run until March of 2002.

To test the new technology, OCW is making available materials from twenty to thirty courses on the web.

Eventually, OCW will feature material from all of MIT’s nearly 2,000 courses.

This information will be free “to anybody anywhere in the world,” Koller said.

According to MIT Professor Steven R. Lerman, chair of the OCW Interim Management Board, the range of courses chosen for the trial period were selected because of their “diversity.”

The OCW team was “looking for a mix of courses that [featured] a different style of teaching,” he said.

Some of the courses are centered around lab work, while others are lecture or project focused.

“We wanted to get a spectrum of faculty and teaching style,” Lerman said.

The OCW initiative is hoped to reach a broad audience with their free course materials, Lerman said, including three distinct audiences.

According to Lerman, non-MIT teachers may benefit from the program because they will be able to integrate the course material into their own lesson plans.

The information would also be readily available to countries that lack the infrastructure to develop teaching plans and lessons on par with those in other more advanced nations.

“Individual learners,” people who can learn and grasp concepts and material without the assistance of an actual teacher, would also benefit from the distance learning project, Lerman said.

“It might give them a start in the same way a text book would give them [one],” he said. “A text book isn’t a course, but it might be useful to some learners, people who are used to learning on their own.”

Other colleges and universities have already been experimenting with various forms of distance learning.

According to Director of Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services, Frank M. Steen, other universities have taken measures that are equal to the OCW Initiative.

Steen also asserts that MIT’s announcement is different because they released the financial burden the institution would incur, whereas other universities have not publicized the amount of money spent on such efforts.

“Any university that puts up course web sites has to make a financial commitment. It is just that MIT announced the amount they planned to spend for 10 years, all at once,” wrote Steen in an e-mail.

For the past four years, Harvard has been hosting undergraduate courses web sites, some of which are accessible to the public. These sites feature many of the same things the OCW hopes to offer.

“[Anyone] can go to the FAS site and look at many, many course web sites in their entirety,” Steen said. “So, practically speaking, we have already completed the equivalent of the MIT project as far as making courses available.”

In addition, the College launched “Harvard at Home” last March, an online program that allows alumni to explore a range of academic topics.