Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An Education from Notre Dame? Priceless.

For those of us who never thought we could afford an education from MIT – or other prestigious universities – do I ever have good news.

As long as you’re not interested in a diploma, MIT, Notre Dame, and UC Irvine, among others, cordially invite you to sit in on class – from the comfort of your own computer chair, and for free.

Although this apparently has been going on for a while, it took NPR to bring it to my attention. Janet Babin of Marketplace Money reports:

Maybe where someone got their degree doesn't impress you. But who isn't curious about what makes some colleges so expensive, and so competitive?

Well now, a few of those elite institutions are pulling back the curtain on the secret formula, making top-notch courses available online for free.

MIT was one of the first. MIT lets you peruse its OpenCourseWare program, where you can see a class syllabus, review quizzes and answers, and even watch videos of class lectures.

A faculty committee created the program several years ago as it worried that the Internet might pass MIT by.

Online students can follow along, but they don't have access to professors, and they don't get any kind of course credit.
The OpenCourseWare Consortium includes universities from all over the world, and describes OpenCourseWare as follows:

a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organized as courses. The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of more than 100 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. The mission of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is to advance education and empower people worldwide through opencourseware.

The Goals of the Consortium

-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.

Not everyone is thrilled. Babin reports the reaction of one disgrunted UNC student:

[I]t's not just about the money. Student Denny Lyons says he'd be against it even if he were on a full scholarship.

DENNY LYONS: We're the ones asking the questions, directing classes. And I guess I have a huge problem with everyone else being able to get benefits off my own intelligence or my own ideas.

Some, but not all, classes are videotaped, so this is apparently what Lyons is referring to. As a teacher who uses active learning (at least partially student-driven discussion classes), I have to wonder: if it's not about the money, how does Mr. Lyons feel about his onsite classmates getting the benefits of his stunning intellect?

No one need worry about the online learners competing with the paying students in the marketplace. Again, the OCW courses offer no credit, so no diploma. "Self-learners," as the various OCW providers call them, clearly show up for the knowledge, which is vastly different from the goal of some (certainly not all) paying college students who come to college precisely to get the piece of paper that they expect to cash in for a lucrative job. For them, if education happens in the interim, that's a nice side benefit.

I look forward to filling a few gaps in my own education; I have my eye on Intro to Philosophy at Notre Dame. To be taken in my spare time, of course.

1 comment:

Meowkaat said...

This is, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I have ever heard of. It is also probably the closest a white trash mama like myself will ever get to a higher education. I am so going to check this out.