Open Education at MIT: Speaks with the President of the OCW Consortium

By Megan Driscoll

stephen carson, mit ocw What is the philosophy that drives the MIT OCW project?

Stephen Carson: The philosophy is very simple: The Internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to share educational materials for global benefit. MIT OpenCourseWare capitalizes on this opportunity by sharing the core educational content - including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams - from nearly all of MIT's undergraduate and graduate courses. The first proof of concept OCW site at MIT was published in 2002 with 50 courses, and you had nearly your entire curriculum online five years later, in 2007. What was the process of building up the OCW site like?

SC: Very much like building a ship as you are sailing out of the harbor. No one had ever attempted such a thing, and it wasn't clear whether you could get enough faculty to participate, how you would deal with intellectual property concerns, whether it would impact the campus experience or what it would cost. How much faculty involvement have you had in the OCW project? Did you meet resistance from any part of your institution, or get any special help from one individual or group?

SC: The program was proposed by a faculty committee, and so had strong faculty support from the beginning. We published materials from our strongest faculty supporters early on and the success of that effort brought another wave of faculty on board. Participating faculty became our best advocates, and we eventually were able to publish materials from more than 80% of the current full-time faculty. Those who've chosen not to participate generally indicate they either lack the time or don't feel their materials are ready but may publish later; very few are unsupportive of the program in general. Can you describe the demographics of the student users of MIT's OCW offerings? What countries are they from? Are they typically matriculated students or self-learners?

SC: Our audience comprises 9 percent educators, 42 percent enrolled students and 43 percent independent learners (6 percent other). Around 60 percent of the total audience comes from outside the U.S., and visitors literally come from every country and territory on the planet. (We even get visits from Antarctica!) Do educators from outside higher ed or from other parts of the world use the MIT OCW site, and in what ways?

SC: Educators all over the world use OCW. A discussion of this use can be found on the OpenFiction blog. Does MIT partner with any of the other schools offering OCW, and if so, can you describe that relationship?

SC: MIT OpenCourseWare is a founding member of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, the membership organization of OCW producers and users. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Consortium, which is an independent organization. Consortium members collaborate on a wide range of efforts. Are there any other initiatives at MIT that promote education access?

SC: There are a great many and I am going to certainly forget important ones if I try to list them all, but I can start with the iLabs project, BLOSSOMS and the many local outreach programs to high schools. Google searches on the MIT site will bring up information about these. Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about the OCW program at MIT.

SC: We're entering our second decade of operation this year and looking forward to redoubling our efforts to generate benefit out of OCW. One first step in this direction is the release of the first of our new OCW Scholar courses. Read more on the MIT website.

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