Massachusetts Institute of Technology has launched MIT OpenCourseWare, “a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world”” (MIT website). That’s right, anyone with an internet connection can access materials from MIT courses. I’m not talking about just a couple of canned PowerPoint presentations either, these are robust courses that have a syllabus, assignments, video and audio lectures, and study materials. Though you can’t get credit for taking these courses, and you don’t have access to the instructors, you can experience teachings from some of the greatest minds in the world. At last count 1,550 courses have been published. The plan is to have just about all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses online by 2008.
What are the implications of this? In my opinion, this may be the single greatest initiative online education has witnessed. Granted, I am an idealist who truly believes that everything should be open source …including education. A world class education is no longer just for the privileged.
Not everyone shares my enthusiasm. I recently listened to a professor’s concerns about the effect this could have on her intellectual property. She feels that this may reduce the value of materials she develops. I understand her point, but I feel this is a bit shortsighted. If all course materials from all colleges are made freely available, think of the advances that could be made with this collective knowledge. Students, professors, and the general public would be able to sample new ideas and theories from leading minds at the click of a mouse. Synergies would be formed, debates would ensue, and discoveries would be made. Some may feel this has the potential to change the landscape of higher education. Would that be such a bad thing?
As a society, I feel there is far too much emphasis put on “checking the box” of getting a degree. There are a lot of people out there with a college degree who barely lifted a finger for the seven years of their undergraduate career. This initiative helps shift the focus from students attaining the tangible end result of receiving a diploma to students gaining knowledge. I wonder if this is the beginning of something big.