2007 January 04 Thursday
Open Courseware Movement Grows
MIT is putting the course materials for all their courses online and other universities are following suit.
By the end of this year, the contents of all 1,800 courses taught at one of the world's most prestigious universities will be available online to anyone in the world, anywhere in the world. Learners won't have to register for the classes, and everyone is accepted.
The cost? It's all free of charge.
The OpenCourseWare movement, begun at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002 and now spread to some 120 other universities worldwide, aims to disperse knowledge far beyond the ivy-clad walls of elite campuses to anyone who has an Internet connection and a desire to learn.
Lectures, diagrams, graphs, and other course material will all be widely and cheaply available - mostly for free.
You too can go through courses from MIT.
The MIT site (ocw.mit.edu), along with companion sites that translate the material into other languages, now average about 1.4 million visits per month from learners "in every single country on the planet," Ms. Margulies says. Those include Iraq, Darfur, "even Antarctica," she says. "We hear from [the online students] all the time with inspirational stories about how they are using these materials to change their lives. They're really, really motivated."
What is lagging? Videos of the lectures.
So far MIT has published 1,550 of its courses for OCW and plans to get the rest online by the end of this year. The materials for each course vary. Full videos of lectures, one of the most popular features, are available for only 26 courses, about 1,000 hours of video in all. "We'd like to do more video because it's really quite popular and our users love it," Marguiles says. "But it's quite expensive." The program relies on "generous support" from foundations, individuals, and MIT itself for funding, she says.
We still need two more essential elements: First, automated online tests. Students need a way to check their level of knowledge. Once they are confident they know to pass tests then they need to be able to go to a school and get tested in person so that they can get credits toward degrees.
How will smart kids use the ability to watch lectures and take tests online and earn credit? They start earning college credits sooner and get through college faster. Rather than impress people with a Harvard or MIT degree they'll impress with college degrees earned at age 19 and younger. They'll also save a hundred thousand dollars a piece and start making big money sooner. Why work for minimum wage while in college at age 20 when you can start earning several times that at 19 by graduating sooner?
The OpenCourseWare Consortium site serves as a good starting point if you want to look for online course material.
I don't wish to sound that I am 'brown-nosing' here, but the sheer kindness that is displayed by Americans in this instance, and in many other unsung but significant ways is astonishing.
I'm pretty sure in my own mind that no British institution (for instance), would ever do this unless a very substantial financial incentive was involved.
Of course, if the many in third-world have their way, (and their lackeys in the WSJ and Economist magazine by the way), and the USA is destroyed, the World will never see anything like this again.
It is true that the generosity of American Universities (and the American Culture overall) is unparalleled in comparison to the avariciousness of almost all other places on this planet. However, as a professional student who has spent many long years in many graduate schools in several areas (and who even did manage to graduate), I can say that most of the MIT lectures that are online, are rather very incomplete to meet the standard of a real course. These are merely guidelines to show the level of the course. There are exceptions, with some professors truly writing a complete PDF file that shows everything in the course, but overall, these online course matreials are not enough, UNLESS the student is actually enrolled in a full time or at least part time program in a rival university. In the case the student is actually enrolled in a real course in a competing university, then the course materials of MIT are immeasurably helpful. Perhaps I am saying this because these days there are so many exceptionally well written text books at the undergraduate and graduate level, that the quality of these texts (which include both the theory, applications, examples, and solved problems)is actually much higher than the MIT lecture notes that are listed as PDF files. These lecture notes are merely a reformulation of what is already written very nicely in texts. What is missing from these PDF files, is the actual environment of being in a lecture room with the professor and the students. And here is the end of the MIT generosity: In order to AUDIT the MIT courses in your spare time in Boston, you must pay a lot of money, just for the privilege of being there. But I am stil happy that within a decade, as computers become more advanced, there will be well designed video courses that are very similar to being in a lecture room or even in a laboratory.
I checked out OCW a year or two ago, and there wasn't much there. On a whim, I checked back last week -- and wow, I've already got three or so math classes lined up! Here are a few caveats, though, to temper the deserved enthusiasm:
1) The materials were originally intended for MIT undergrads, 88% of whom scored 700+ on the SAT math section.
Given that OCW users will work sans profs and TAs, if their math score on the SAT or GRE is far south of 800, it will probably be tough going. Once "the movement" gets going, though, colleges with a lower proportion of math whizzes could upload their materials for a more general audience.
2) Textbooks are obviously not free. But since a lot of what MIT is good at is independent of textbook writer / point-of-view -- math, physics, engineering -- you can buy cheap used books that present roughly identical material. This only really becomes a problem when all the HW problems are out of the textbook: if you don't shell out the dough, you won't have practice problems.
Overall, that's not bad news.
I think I've mentioned this here before, but its possible to complete a bachelors degree solely by passing achievement tests. There are a handful of accredited colleges (two are state schools, one in NJ and the other in CT) that will give you credit for passing CLEP or other tests without ever stepping foot on campus.
An active duty sailor figured out a way to earn an associates and a bachelors in less than a year (and in his case, the Navy paid for all testing fees). He put up a website that describes how he did it-- its pretty slick looking, I suspect its funded by a test review company but the sailor and his story appear legit.