initiative could revolutionize learning
By DAVID TICOLL
Globe and Mail Thursday,
Sep. 4, 2003
students across Canada trudge back to class, a
U.S. initiative is taking flight that could revolutionize
public and corporate education around the world.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),
which decided in 2001 to put all its courses on the
Internet, this month moves its OpenCourseWare
(OCW) project from pilot to full production
Within a few years, the entire MIT curriculum will be
readily available to anyone -- for free. By the end
of September, 500 undergraduate courses will be on the
Net, without any signup procedure. The remaining 1,500
will come on stream over the next few years.
what OCW is -- and what it isn't. It is a collection
of genuine MIT course materials, some highly current,
others maybe one or two years old. It is not a way to
get credits, teacher contact or classroom participation.
OCW is amazing. Every course has at
least a description and calendar, lecture notes, reading
lists and assignments. Many go a lot further. Star linear-algebra
professor Gilbert Strang delivers an entire term of
lectures on video. A course on urban planning showcases
all its students' Web-based
projects. A software engineering course is already
world renowned for its effectiveness. According to an
article in Wired magazine, it helped a computer science
professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo,
Ont., prepare better lectures; a bunch of working Java
programmers in Kansas City to team up to improve their
skills; and a student in Ho Chi Minh City to build an
application that helps residents pick the right buses
to get where they want to go.
post-secondary schools have put some courses
on the Net, typically in traditional learning formats
that you pay for. More ambitious, Canada's Edusource
project will link institutions nationwide to let teachers
share materials through a common set of technology
standards. It recently announced a number of international
partnerships. And inOctober, a Commonwealth-wide virtual
university is to be announced, possibly with the Edusource
no one matches MIT's simple, all-encompassing mission.
"We are doing this because we see it as part of
our mission: to help to raise the quality of higher
education in every corner of the globe," says its
president Charles Vest.
2001 decision to embark on this path came at a crucial
time, comments Jutta Treviranus, interim director for
academic technology at the University of Toronto. "There
was widespread fear and misperception because of the
Internet. Faculty discussions were about how to protect
our intellectual property, will we become redundant,
will people steal our stuff? MIT shifted the entire
political atmosphere within the academic community."
sharing course materials, MIT will encourage and help
others to do the same. The university will codify and
freely share the how-tos of the OCW's design and implementation.
These include home-grown software tools and ways to
tackle legal and organizational hurdles such as copyright
and other intellectual property issues.
OCW uses open licensing terms that encourage others
to build on its materials with "derivative works"
while forbidding resale. OCW executive director Anne
Margulies says: "We are thinking about how to help
learning communities form around the content without
having MIT bear the financial and organizational burden.
We'd like to be part of a federation of like-minded
institutions using common standards so materials can
be easily exchanged."
partnership is with the University of Utah, where assistant
professor of instructional technology David Wiley is
building an Internet environment to provide people-to-people
support for the OCW's content through voluntary, selforganizing
communities of interest.
Dr. Wiley's idea succeeds is almost secondary. Without
the critical mass of learning materials from the OCW,
such experiments will simply not be possible. A new
door has been opened, and Dr. Wiley's is but one glimpse
of the opportunities on the other side.
universities -- or, at least, one Canadian university
-- should emulate MIT's example. The benefits would
be huge. Leading academics, such as Roger Martin, dean
of the Rotman School of Management at the University
of Toronto, say that investments in higher education
improve our economic productivity, prosperity and competitiveness.
about open education as a way to improve the productivity
the treasure trove of (remember, taxpayer-funded) academic
knowledge would, for a relatively modest investment,
improve the productivity of academia itself, while providing
a whole new array of knowledge resources to self-starters
and employees across the country.
preparing their materials for public display, and also
by having easy access to the materials of others, faculty
members will inevitably improve course quality while
saving time -- through reuse of others' good stuff --
in the preparation of class materials. Serendipity will
provide additional benefits. Ms. Margulies tells a story
of two professors in superficially unrelated fields
who didn't even know one another; they discovered that
they were working on the same problem after perusing
the OCW curriculum.
a leading school's entire curriculum to go on-line,
Canada's Edusource initiative, which promotes sharing
among volunteer faculty across the country, would receive
a big shot in the arm. This would really fly if the
on-line curriculum used Edusource's standards. Opening
an entire university curriculum would also provide big
benefits for companies and their employees. Corporate
training departments and individual learners would gain
a vast new resource for
knowledge and skill development. And as collaborative
learning models like those proposed by Utah's Dr. Wiley
take form, the "productivity" of lifelong
learning will accelerate.
course, all this takes money. MIT was aided by grants
in the tens of millions from well-heeled national foundations.
No Canadian university is anywhere near as well endowed
as the MITs, Stamfords and Harvards of the world. Our
schools need to make tough choices about every fundraising
this is one tough -- albeit unconventional -- choice
that's worth making.
is a consultant, speaker and author. His new book is
"The Naked Corporation: Howthe Age of Transparency
Will Revolutionize Business" (Viking Canada,
www.nakedcorporation.com ), written with Don Tapscott.
and eduSourceCanada working together on learning object
With funding of $4.25 million from CANARIE the eduSourceCanada
project is playing a leadership role in promoting online
learning. eduSource is a national consortium of learning
institutions, universities and private sector partners,
who will create the first pan-Canadian bilingual testbed
of linked interoperable learning object repositories.