Free Online Courses?

by Patrick Kammermeyer on February 2, 2011

In 1999, the University of Tübingen, in Germany, began publishing videos of lectures online. These lectures were freely viewed by anyone coming to their website. This was the beginning of a movement that would later become known as OpenCourseWare (OCW).

OCW began to really gain some traction in 2002, when MIT launched its OpenCourseWare initiative. Today, MIT’s OCW has over 2035 courses available online. Other universities with notable OCW initiatives include: Yale, Carnegie-Mellon, UC Berkeley, to name only a few.

The OpenCourseWare Consortium, a collaboration of over 200 higher education institutions from around the world, is dedicated to “creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.”  The Consortium’s stated goals:

  • Extend the reach and impact of opencourseware by encouraging the adoption and adaptation of open educational materials around the world.
  • Foster the development of additional opencourseware projects.
  • Ensure the long-term sustainability of opencourseware projects by identifying ways to improve effectiveness and reduce costs.

OpenCourseWare falls under a broader umbrella term called Open Educational Resources (OER). A report to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines OER as follows:

“OER are teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

So, why are these universities giving away some of their their content for free?

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that the reasons can range from marketing, to wanting to be the first to set standards, to the beginning of a philosophical shift in our educational model and sense of social responsibility.

Should Cal Poly join the OpenCourseWare Consortium and begin an initiative to create OER material?

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