Open Education Around the World: Speaks with the Middle East Technical University

Mar 09, 2011

In the pursuit of increasing access to education, has recently launched an interview series with OpenCourseWare (OCW) providers around the world. These institutions are at the forefront of the blossoming open education movement, which provides free educational resources to any student or self learner with an Internet connection. Read on to learn about OCW opportunities at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Turkey from Associate Professor Kursat Cagiltay.

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By Megan Driscoll

Middle East Technical University When did Middle East Technical University begin offering course materials online, and what inspired you to join the OCW Consortium?

Kursat Cagiltay: We officially opened the METU OCW on April 16, 2008. We had been planning to open some of our course materials to the public since 2001, but due to lack of financial support and other administrative issues, the site wasn't launched until 2008.

We decided to join the open education movement because we were aware of the potential of OCW, and we knew that METU students and faculty were heavily using the MIT OCW courses. After opening our OCW site, we decided that we wanted to be a part of global OCW movement. To learn more about the OCW Consortium and meet with its pioneers, I attended the group's meetings in Spain and China, after which we joined. Is there a particular educational philosophy that drives your participation in open education?

KC: Don Tapscott, a Canadian professor of Management, made the following statement about the changing nature of education:

'It's not what you know that counts anymore. It's what you can learn.'

I adapted Don's statement to develop our philosophy:

'It's not what you know that counts anymore. It's what you can share.'

I believe that sharing is the key element for the prosperity of human beings in the knowledge age, and METU OCW proudly serves this purpose. METU's main website notes that your mission is to bring 'teaching, research and social services up to universal standards.' Do you feel that your OCW site helps you spread that mission beyond your school's walls? Please elaborate.

KC: The answer is definitely yes. If we lock down our intellectual assets we cannot improve ourselves.

Universities (including, of course, METU) have been sharing their research outputs in journals and conferences, but course materials are generally not shared by faculty. We felt that since METU shares its research outputs with everybody, the same approach could also be applied to our courses. Sharing automatically increases the quality of our courses because they become more visible. Furthermore, we hope that METU OCW will also increase the quality in other universities because their students will start to demand the same level of education from their professors. What percentage of METU's course materials have made it onto your OCW website and what types of materials do you offer - course syllabi, exams, video or audio lectures. . . ?

KC: Currently, we have 69 courses available at our OCW site, which were provided by 33 faculty from 19 different departments. Compared to the total number of courses at the university, this is definitely not enough. But as you may know, MIT also opened with a small number of courses at the beginning of its OCW project. And we have one major handicap: We're realizing this project with $0 budget.

Any kind of material is acceptable to our OCW. Faculty mostly provide syllabi, course notes and sample exams. We also record videos of two or three courses every semester, and we're working on developing some simulations for foundational courses such as chemistry and physics. Your site currently offers some courses in English and some in Turkish. Do you plan to offer any other languages in order to open the materials up to more people in your region?

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KC: Since the language of instruction is in English at METU, most of our courses are in English. Some of our professors also translate their courses into Turkish. The translation process is done by professors, not by our office.

If someone would like to upload course materials in other languages, METU OCW is open to it. But we haven't received such a request yet. What are the demographics of your primary users? Do you track their countries of origin, age group or other information, and if so, can you share it?

KC: Every day we have about 250 visitors to our OCW site, and in the last three months, we had a total of about 18,000 visitors. The top 10 countries of origin among users were:

  1. Turkey (TR): 13,728
  2. United States (US): 922
  3. India (IN): 333
  4. United Kingdom (GB): 314
  5. Germany (DE): 201
  6. Iran, Islamic Republic of (IR): 124
  7. Canada (CA): 121
  8. Indonesia (ID): 114
  9. China (CN): 94
  10. Malaysia (MY): 93

Since we have no user registration system in our OCW, we unfortunately do not have demographic information. But we know that most of the visitors come from academic institutions, so we assume that they're either university students or faculty.

The map below shows the visitors to our OCW site between November 5, 2010 and February 1, 2011.

Middle East Technical University Are there any other current or in-development initiatives at METU to promote open education?

KC: We recently opened a mirror site of METU OCW in China at the request of China's CORE Office.

One in-development initiative is the creation of an open virtual chemistry lab. Every semester about 1,000 freshman students at METU take a general chemistry course, and the lab activity is a part of this course. They have to finish their experiments in a limited time, which can cause some problems. With our virtual lab, students will be able to first model the experiment on the computer, helping them to become familiar with the activity so that when they come to the lab they'll be able to conduct the experiment more effectively. Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about METU's OCW program.

KC: METU has initiated many innovations in Turkey, and OCW is one of them. I invite everybody from all over the world to METU OCW. Please use and share our courses. We would like to hear users comments and suggestions to make our OCW better.

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