Want to take a class at MIT, one of the most revered schools of technology in the world? You don’t have to have near-perfect SAT scores, you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA, you don’t have to pay the $50,000 tuition — in fact, you don’t even have to be enrolled as a student. Sound too good to be true? MIT has put its entire course catalog online so that anyone who wants to check class lectures, lecture notes, assignments, and other materials can do so via their computer.
Online education continues to change the way educators and students imagine higher education, and MIT’s open courses are just one of the many ways traditional land-based schools are adapting to advances in technology. Due to the expansion of online education, the OpenCourseWare Consortium, a non-profit organization committed to promoting global education opportunities, was created to provide students from all over the world with the opportunity to access higher education courses and relevant material.
MIT isn’t the only prestigious land school to be involved. Stanford, Tufts, Yale, the University of Michigan and Harvard also offer many, if not all, of their courses online for free. So why give away something that many students pay so much for? “My deep conviction is that as academics we have a duty to spread our ideas as far and as freely as possible,” says Rebecca Henderson, an economics professor at MIT and Harvard.
Sharing the world’s knowledge is the goal of the OpenCourseWare Consortium. Obtaining royalties from more schools and then delivering the material effectively as well as long-term funding are issues that still need to be addressed. Initial funding came from the private sector through schools and affluent organizations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. But, say the directors of the Consortium, “relying on philanthropy is not sustainable”.
To address sustainability, copyright issues and the effectiveness of Open Education movement courses, activists, educators and scientists will converge in Barcelona for meetings on education, accessibility and trends in Open Education. Open Ed 2011 and Drumbeat Learning Freedom and the Web Festival will come together to address the future of education and the web and the “decisions needed to make open education a reality” as well as “impact and sustainability”.
Mary Lou Forward, executive director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, plans to attend both meetings. Unequal access to education is one of the main reasons OpenCourseWare was developed, bringing free education to the masses is a concept that is always on Forward’s mind. “What I always think about,” she says, “are ways to bring education to people.”
While open courses do not provide actual course credit or an eventual degree to students, they are used by many for self-study or to find areas of study that might interest them in their eventual graduate career. In addition, open courses offer underprivileged students or traditionally low-access students who may not be able to attend college the opportunity to study and learn exactly what their peers are studying elsewhere.
OpenCourseWare hopes to make national and global higher education courses freely available to students and students around the world.