At the start of this Millennium, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) USA, launched OpenCourseWare (OCW) over the Internet, it could not have visualised the impact this innovation would have on education. Today, just consider what MITs OCW can enable educators, students and self-learners across the world to do: a teacher sitting in a small town in Tamil Nadu who is dissatisfied with her textbook can examine the curriculum and notes of her peers in US and European universities, gain insights and supplement her teaching with additional slides and presentations.
Similarly, a student sitting in, say, Latvia who does not have the financial resources to enroll for a Masters in physics can easily study on his own, choosing lesson plans from hundreds of universities that have made their course freely and openly accessible on the Internet. While this student may not get an official degree for completing the course through the Open System, in the not-sodistant future, when a proposed credit banking system eventually takes shape, the hours of self-learning may hold valuable pay-offs.
The applications of OCW are varied. Policy makers across the world are realising that Open Knowledge is perhaps the only route to expand the reach of education and make it inclusive, as well as help institutions raise their standards. And thats why the reason for the excitement. A match struck in India could, after all, light up the flames of knowledge in distant Africa or in China, and vice-versa.
Unlike Distance Education, which also helps the geographically and time-challenged individuals to educate themselves, OCW is also helping students and educators in centres of excellence to push up their performance.
Stephen Carson, external relations director, MIT OCW and president, OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC), a global grouping of higher education institutions, points how the initiative is finding applications in centres of excellence like MIT itself. In the process, it is transforming the very model of education delivery, changing pedagogical approaches, making learning very transparent and speedy. For instance, today 84 percent of MITs faculty uses colleagues materials on the site, while 70 percent of students use the site to complement course materials and improve learning.
As Mary Lou Forward, executive director, OCWC, says: There is a global connectivity to the movement, where you (each nation) do not have to create things differently. Already, OpenCourseWare projects have been developed in more than 30 countries and the sharing across geographies is instantaneous.
Here are some numbers from MITs OCW that describe the scale: An estimated 60 million people from 220 countries and territories worldwide have used OCW for a broad spectrum of teaching and learning purposes. Nearly 790 OCW courses of a total of 1940 courses have been translated into languages including Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai at an estimated investment of $10 million; more than 100 complete copies of the site have been distributed to universities in bandwidth-constrained regions.