Want to take a course from M.I.T., one of the most revered technology schools in the world? You don’t have to have almost-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? M.I.T. has put its entire course catalogue online so that anyone who wishes to check out class lectures, class notes, assignments and other materials will be able to via their computer.
Online education continues to change the way educators and students envision higher education and M.I.T.’s open courses are just one of the many ways that traditional ground schools are adapting to advances in technology. Due to the expansion of online education, OpenCourseWare Consortium, a non-profit organization committed to advancing global education opportunity, was created to give students worldwide the opportunity to access higher education courses and relevant material.
M.I.T. isn’t the only prestigious ground school to get 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 belief is that as academics we have a duty to disperse our ideas as far and as freely as possible,” says Rebecca Henderson a business professor from M.I.T. and Harvard.
Sharing the world’s knowledge is the goal of OpenCourseWare Consortium. Obtaining copyrights from more schools and then delivering the material effectively as well as long-term funding are issues which are still being dealt with. Initial funding came from the private sector by way of affluent schools and organizations like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. But, say Consortium directors, “relying on philanthropy is not sustainable.”
To address sustainability, copyright issues, and course effectiveness of the Open Education movement activists, educators, and scientists will converge in Barcelona for meetings on education, accessibility, and trends in Open Education. Open Ed 2011 and the Drumbeat Learning Freedom and the Web Festival will convene 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 is planning to attend both meetings. Unequal access to education is one of the most prominent reasons OpenCourseWare was developed, bringing free education to the masses is a concept that is always on Forward’s mind. “What I think about all the time,” she says, “are ways to bring education to people.”
While open courses don’t provide actual course credit or an eventual degree to students, they are used by many to self-learn or to find areas of study that may interest them in their eventual degree track. Additionally, open courses give underprivileged students or students with traditionally little access who may be incapable of attending college an opportunity to study and learn exactly what their peers elsewhere are studying.