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The Open CourseWare Consortium: Help Make Education Free

Project Hope is one of my favorite organizations, because it brings education to the rural poor of China. Education is the biggest social equalizer, unlocking opportunities to higher paying jobs for those who are otherwise destined for a life of destitution.

At a more macro level between nation states, education is a equalizer too. In that context, there is a equalizer movement that has emerged in the last ten years: the OpenCourseWareConsortium (OCW).

It first started in 1999 at MIT as a distance learning initiative lead by Computer Science professor Hal Abelson. The idea was to make MIT’s course materials available and free online to anyone around the world. By the start of the 2003 school year, MIT had published 500 course-wares through this initiative. As of today, almost all of MIT’s course materials are online, according to the university’s version of Open CourseWare. In 2005, MIT and other universities around the world banded together to form the Open CourseWare Consortium. (Wikipedia)

Back in 2002 when some started to notice MIT’s efforts, there were occasional reports of this initiative. It didn’t start out free though. Here is a snippet from a BBC News report:

“I genuinely think there was an ‘a-ha’ moment when they said our mission was actually to enhance education,” said Anne Margulies, Executive Director of OCW.

“Why don’t we, instead of trying to sell our knowledge over the internet, just give it away.”

Over the next 10 years, MIT will move all its existing coursework on to the internet.

There will be no online degrees for sale, however. Instead, it will offer thousands of pages of information, available to anyone around the globe at no cost, as well as hours and hours of streaming video lectures, seminars and experiments.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. MIT wants to start nothing short of a global revolution in education.

“Our hope and aspiration is that by setting an example, other universities will also put their valued materials on the internet and thereby make a truly profound and fundamental impact on learning and education worldwide,” said MIT’s Professor Dick Yue.

These statistics showed “103 million visits by 73 million visitors from virtually every country” to the site. Adding in traffic for materials from other institutions, it is clear this movement has taken a foot-hold around the world. Below is an interesting break-down of those visitors.

I thought Asia’s 21% was interesting, especially as compared to the rest of the world outside the U.S.. It shows Asia with a strong appetite for these materials. Obviously China has many more students and has a large Internet population. What is undeniable is certainly the fact that China has started to embrace this idea in shear numbers.

This leads me to the China Open Resources for Education (版权所有) (CORE), also a non-profit organization. It is formed by the top universities in China, whose mission in part is: “to promote closer interaction and open sharing of educational resources between Chinese and international universities, which CORE envisions as the future of world education.” It has 2,500+ volunteers and have translated many OCW materials into Chinese.

Here is a recent China Daily report, “Opening the doors to learning,” detailing more broadly other efforts in translating OCW content into Chinese; not just through CORE.

This further leads me to think about the exchange of ideas between China and the West. Who says the Chinese are not absorbing ideas from the West? Also think about the number of Chinese students studying in the West compared to the other way around. Talk in the West about censorship and China’s “Great Firewall” is rather myopic. Good stuff like OCW are obviously let through. So, until we see the same passion from the West to learn Chinese and from the Chinese, the West in fact has the biggest firewall of all – their mental wall. That mental wall is “clever” for sure, but does it help the West?

  1. January 5th, 2011 at 01:00 | #1

    One of my favorite recent quotes:

    As the Western saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome”. In a world of diversity, there is no such thing as “the only right path”. The popular conviction of the Chinese people is that our path should be based on our national conditions and rooted in reality. China’s experience cannot be exported. By the same token, not all Western experience will suit China. Of course, this does not mean that China should stop drawing upon the useful experience of the West. We will continue to learn from all the good experience and best practices in the world that suit and help China’s development. At the same time, we will explore new forms and ways to meet the demand of China’s continued development and the development of political civilization in the world. (TANG GUOQIANG, Chinese Ambassador to Norway)

  2. tolpuddlemartyr
    January 6th, 2011 at 05:44 | #2

    See photograph of lovely porcelain Chinese 18th coffee cup on my blog: http://www.tolpuddlemartyr.blogspot.com

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