Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses

By Taylor Walsh | Go to book overview

3
FREE AND COMPREHENSIVE:
MIT’S OPENCOURSEWARE

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) project, launched in 2001, set the standard for open-access online course materials as the first initiative of its kind. In what continues to be the highestprofile project in this field, MIT pledged to offer freely available web-based versions of syllabi, lecture notes, reading lists, assignments, and other materials for virtually all of its courses. OCW thus constituted a major institutional commitment to transparency, providing, in the words of former Provost Robert Brown, “a window into MIT on a very fundamental level”—its classrooms.1

Though the committee that initiated OCW did not set out to create a free offering, it opted to do so when consultant studies revealed that a fee-based effort, akin to Fathom and AllLearn, was highly unlikely to generate sufficient revenues. Subsequently, the project’s open availability has become a cornerstone of its success. MIT President Charles Vest, OCW’s key champion at the university, capitalized on the idea’s novelty to parlay personal relationships with foundation leaders into an extraordinary amount of start-up funding. MIT OCW has also received ample attention from the Institute’s peers and in the popular press. Though the open courseware field has expanded greatly in the years since OCW’s launch (in part due to MIT’s success in encouraging other institutions to follow its lead), it remains the best-known—and best-funded—initiative of its kind.

1Interview with Robert Brown, 10/27/08.

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