Monday, July 23, 2012

Chapter 5

It was interesting to read about the the open courseware (OCW) movement initiated by MIT. If they had not had the foresight and bravery to begin pioneer who knows where we would be today. The idea to share its course content with the world was a huge step forward pushing forward this digital renaissance we are in (or entering, depending on your source material). The “rational altruism” mentioned by Yue has empowered many learners. I have known about open courseware for some time. I stumbled upon MIT's OCW while searching for new course materials about 3 years ago. When I found this I thought what a great addition to my AP biology course. I have used a number of the video lectures (thought they often lack the visuals the instructors are using for copyright reasons) and a great many of the problem sets and exams to supplement my course. I have even used a few of these to enhance my understanding of some of the more complex biological issues.

It is staggering to think of the number of people that visit and learn from these resources each day. The ability to learn material based on your personal needs and desires can not be underscored. To think that 35 million people (including myself and my students) have used the MIT course materials since its inception is incredible.

One of the most astonishing things for me was the effect this OCW movement has had in other parts of the world. A world citizen, from any nation with internet access, could view these materials. The use of these courses in other countries such as Pakistan, China, Venezuela, and Nigeria is swesome. I never realized how important these resources were in countries where educational opportunities are so limited. The OCW movement has given millions the chance to learn new and powerful concepts. The OOPS project is expanding theses offerings to billions of Chinese by translating the MIT courses. This project thought is led by volunteers, much like Wikipedia. And much like Wikipedia the materials are open to other editors so that these materials can be updated, modified and improved. In 2008 the number of visitors to the OOPS translated courses topped 1.9 million.

The ability to merge course ideas and tailor your own educational experience has never been greater.

It is inspiring that more and more institutions are joining in the OCW movement. Just of few of the notable US ones include Harvard, Rice, The University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Tufts, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of California – Irvine. While these free courses do not award credits (yet) people can sometimes gain credit through CLEP exams or by preparing a portfolio based on what you have learned through an agency such as Learning Counts (

As the chapter concludes the focus shifts to the idea that all this content will be available to self teach and may eventually lead to free education. That learning is a basic human right (I agree). While I find this an interesting concept we must not forget that this content is the result of paid professionals. There must be some funding model to maintain and create new content. Also the content available is mainly factual, content knowledge (level one). The other aspects of instruction that lead to higher order thinking must be included to make these programs more successful. The P2PU seems to help address this to group based discussions and tutors....but its a start.

This is a great start but at can not replace a good deep experience. And truthfully not that many “standard” educational practices provide this either. But the OCW course movement is a great starting point to provided content. I see that the “teachers” will further evolve has this practice becomes more and more common. It will be interesting to see what the educational arena will look like 10 – 20 years from now.


  1. I found Open Source software has a huge advantage when comes to cost, flexibility, updating, and protection (less virus) BUT a huge issue is the fact that there is NO incentive for Quality control or help. It lacks for a help desk.... Now as the software matures it gets better, but that takes some time. For example, Open Office... when it first came out it was lauded as the Microsoft Office Killer. Yes it was free.... but we had huge problems with it crashing randomly on our MLTI laptops. It didn't have the help files as well. Open Office relied on peoples familiarity with Microsoft's Office.

    How I see software companies will make their money is the value added features. Give the base free, but the high end features you pay for. You don't need to pay for basic word processing suite now that your have Google Docs (that is going to move open source to the web) you only need Office for higher level word processing.

    It is what has happened to music industry. Kids are not buying a cd for 1 song... they are listening to 1 song... then making their own. The value added is going to the concert.

  2. Interesting take. I guess that is one way they could profit from it.....

    We all want the FREE stuff but in the end without some form of profit structure how will these companies flourish. Some even seek donations (Wikipedia did this not to long ago).

  3. It seems odd to criticize lecture style teaching as "sage on the stage". Much of the OCW includes videos of lectures. This, and the high regard for "TED Talks" indicates that the lecture is still a viable way of information transferal and that being able to listen to someone else is still a valuable skill. An advantage of listening digitally is the ability to replay a part if there is a distraction or a point that is difficult to grasp.

  4. I agree with Art's comments that while it's a basic human right to learn, someone has to come up with the material. I love "free stuff" as much as the next person, but I also realize that professionals need to be paid for their work.

    As an analogy, police officers and firefighters do into their line of work because they want to make their communities better places to live, work and play. It's a basic human right to feel safe, but those who are doing the protecting need to get something out of it. They often enjoy the work they do, but like everyone else, they have families to feed and homes to heat. Why should it be any different for those in education?

    Personally, I like the idea of having a "free" version of an education tool available, while offering more advanced plugins or options at a (reasonable) cost. It seems like the most fair and ethical way to provide free and open courseware, while still honoring the work of the creators.