Wednesday, March 09, 2016

MIT Open Courseware -- on the Internet or a mirror site near you

The grandaddy of online education is 15 years old.

MIT's Open Courseware project (OCW) has been offering free, open courseware under a Creative Commons licence for 15 years. About 2/3 of tenure track faculty at MIT have put material from over 2,300 courses online and they are viewed by over 1.5 million unique visitors per month (monthly statistics here).

There are courses from 31 departments and it is not all engineering and science -- the schools of Management, Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Architecture and Planning all have OCW courses.

The format varies from course to course, each offering at least one and perhaps all of the following: video/audio lectures, student work, lecture notes, assessments, online textbooks or interactive simulations.

OCW users are pleased -- 80% rate OCW's impact as extremely positive or positive, 96% of educators say the site has/will help improve courses and 96% of visitors would recommend the site. (My guess is that these figures are dependent upon which course the person had taken since the quality and quantity of material varies from course to course).

The most appealing facet of OCW for me is their Mirror Site Program, which provides copies of their Web site to non-profit educational organizations that have significant challenges to Internet accessibility, inadequate Internet infrastructure, or prohibitive Internet costs.

A mirror site requires a computer with a terabyte of storage that should be accessible by students and faculty from lab or over a local area network or intranet. The courseware is regularly updated, so someone has to be available for a download every week or so and to coordinate with OCW. They recommend an Internet connection of at least 1 mbit/second for updates. The initial install (about 600 gigabytes) is typically from a portable hard drive supplied by MIT.

They currently have 368 registered mirror sites around the world (about 80% in sub-Saharan Africa) and, while most of the material is English, selected courses have been translated into at least ten languages. For example, there are 94 in Spanish.

Most courses are in English, but some have been translated.

Translation is less important for university-level courses than for primary or secondary school since university students can often read and speak English; however, MIT would be happy for others to contribute translations.

Don't forget that the OCW system and course content are under a Creative Commons license, and they encourage people to replicate the material. For example, several copies could be made available in labs run by different departments within a university and at many universities within a nation.

If you are fortunate enough to have Internet connectivity, you can browse the site and course material online. If not, consider setting up a mirror site -- contact Yvonne Ng at MIT. If you do, keep me in the loop and let me know if I can help.

See this companion post on the Khan Academy educational site, which is also available off line.