Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MIT OPENCOURSEWARE 2012: Educational materials that matter and supporting OCW

Several weeks ago I traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti with several MIT colleagues as part of workshops on technology-enhanced and open education. The workshops were organized by MIT professor Michel DeGraff, the Faculté des Sciences at the Université d'État d'Haïti, and the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty. I wasn't sure what to expect because I knew the country was still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.
What I saw was inspiring and moving. I was amazed by the dedication and passion of the Haitian educators and students to improve teaching and learning in sometimes stark conditions. Some university classes are held in open spaces -- three walls with a roof, with little protection from the elements. This is especially difficult during the rainy season.
Most of the universities and schools were heavily damaged in the earthquake but where some buildings and computer labs and internal networks have been rebuilt, Internet connectivity remains limited. We provided two local universities copies of the OCW site, through the OCW mirror site program. The program is designed to offer access to our courses without the need to connect to the internet.
Mr. Jean Henri Vernet, Rector of the Université d'État d'Haïti, said: "This initiative will open a new gate for our students. Through this gate, they will find a comprehensive range of materials from the classrooms of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. These materials cover almost all areas of knowledge. Higher education is going to greatly benefit from this initiative. We will also benefit from exchanges among educators in Haiti and at MIT -- exchanges both in person and online. These exchanges will add a human touch that will enhance the technology."

I gave a brief demonstration of the OCW site and our OCW Scholar courses. The completeness of the Scholar course materials and the linear progression of these subjects in many ways offer guided learning and diminish the need for textbooks. Although Haiti still has quite a long road of recovery ahead of them, the resilience and optimism of these educators and others I met was extraordinary.

Educational materials that matter
My visit showed me in a concrete way how valuable OCW's free resources can be, especially in resource-scarce environments where there is overwhelming demand for learning opportunities. This experience, in addition to the helpful feedback from our users, reinforces our goals to continue to provide free MIT educational materials to anyone seeking knowledge.
We recently published five new OCW Scholar courses. These courses are incredibly in-depth in the way the subject matter is presented, explained and detailed. Although we are proud of our entire publication, the level of effort to produce these courses is equivalent to about five OCW courses. We have begun work on our next set of OCW Scholar courses which will include subjects in electrical engineering and computer science and mechanical engineering, and so please stay tuned. In the meantime, if you haven't already, I encourage you to visit OCW Scholar courses.

OCW materials (syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams) support a wide range of use by educators, students and independent learners, but we recognize the particular value of video lectures to our users. We strive to keep in step with that need and now have 58 courses available with audio and video content. We'll continue to increase the availability of these resources as well as update and publish new courses and provide exceptional supplemental resources that are also educational gems.

Supporting open education

Over the last ten years, the open educational landscape has changed dramatically. Where OCW was once the only institution providing free educational materials, now users have the opportunity to access thousands of courses from hundreds of organizations in a plethora of languages. The OpenCourseWare Consortium alone has more than 250 member institutions who are dedicated to making their own courses freely available.

Still, the global demand for knowledge is great but the on-going costs of producing MIT's vast repository of knowledge are significant. Each course we publish requires an investment of $10,000 -- $15,000 to collect course materials from faculty, ensure proper licensing for open sharing, and format materials for global distribution. Courses with video content cost about twice as much. We must also sustain a considerable technical infrastructure that manages content and distributes it through a worldwide network to a global audience and to mirror sites in bandwidth constrained regions.
We are grateful for the funding we receive from MIT, foundations and institutions that provide significant support for our work but donations from individuals like you have become increasingly important. Your support is vital to keeping MIT OpenCourseWare growing and vibrant, and demonstrates to our other funders the value you place on OCW.
In the upcoming weeks, we will launch our spring fundraising campaign. There are a number of ways you can help support OCW:

Make a donation to support our work
Ask your company to match your gift to OCW
Invite your company to make a corporate gift or become an OCW underwriter
Help regularly build OCW's future one course at a time through the OCW Course Champions Program
Shop via our Amazon.com links
Tell your friends and colleagues about OCW.
With your help, we can ensure that OCW continues to share MIT's wealth of knowledge, providing the educational opportunity for motivated people everywhere to improve their lives and change the world.
Cecilia d'Oliveira
Executive Director
MIT OpenCourseWare

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