MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIV No. 4
March / April 2012
The Next President of MIT
The Search for MIT's Seventeenth President
MIT 2030: A Capital Planning Framework for the Future
MIT's Ongoing Commitment to OpenCourseWare
New Open Access Working Group Formed:
Formulating Response to Elsevier's Policy Change
MIT: Rebuilding Community
Over-Schooled and Under-Skilled
Faculty Committee Activity: Spring 2012 Update
Travis Merritt and the Founding of Charm School Training Scores Big at MIT:
Gets Personal with lyndaCampus
MAP Program: Calling All Faculty
Workshop: Leadership Skills for Engineering and Science Faculty
On the Creation of MITx
Past Presidents of MIT
Printable Version

MIT's Ongoing Commitment to OpenCourseWare

Hal Abelson, Shigeru Miyagawa, Dick Yue

When we first proposed MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) 11 years ago, we did so in part because we felt the time was not right for MIT to enter into the online education space. Technologies were crude at the time, costs were high, and it was not at all clear that MIT could succeed. Rather than attempt large-scale online education, we proposed, let's use the Internet to share the materials used for our classroom-based education. The MIT faculty, in adopting the proposal for OpenCourseWare, made a commitment to fostering social good rather than generating profit. The outcomes of that effort bear out our decision.

Each month more than 1.2 million people from around the world visit OCW, and traffic continues to grow. Since inception, 125 million people have accessed MIT OpenCourseWare materials to better understand how MIT teaches its students, to download our materials and modify them for use in their own classes, and a surprising number have used the classroom materials to support independent learning.

We've seen a vibrant open education movement grow around our efforts, with more than 250 universities around the world sharing educational materials from over 17,000 courses in the OpenCourseWare format.

OCW has given MIT time and space to both have a significant educational presence online and also wait for online education approaches to mature. Generally, much more is known about online learning now than when OCW was proposed. There is now a significant body of research regarding online learning and the tools supporting computer-based instruction grow ever more sophisticated. We've seen the focus of the open education movement shift from the provision of mainly classroom-based content as OCW has done to materials specifically designed for online learning. We've witnessed the growth and success of efforts to support open interactions and learning experiences via online community spaces and open credentials such as badges and certificates. The rate of change in the field of online and open education has increased dramatically even in the past few months, and there is no doubt that these changes will begin to impact residential education in the near future.

The recently announced online learning effort, MITx, has generated significant excitement outside of MIT and significant discussion inside the Institute, as evidenced by the recent edition of the Faculty Newsletter. Given our experience in developing OCW, we believe MITx is an idea whose time has come, and MIT’s decision to pursue the project was the right one. A new generation of online learning projects are emerging – Khan Academy and the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford last fall have received the most attention, but there are hundreds of others – all offering learning that is more scalable, personalized, and demonstrably effective than ever before. These tools and approaches will fast become the expectation of a new generation of students. MIT cannot afford to sit on the sidelines in this environment – we must position ourselves to better understand these new learning approaches and how they will impact our on-campus education, and we must be open to incorporating what we have learned into our current practice.

OpenCourseWare, as a repository of our teaching materials and a publication reflecting MIT's pedagogical practices, is a vital part of MIT’s open education portfolio. As teaching approaches at MIT change, MIT OpenCourseWare will document and disseminate our work, maintaining MIT’s position as global educational innovator, and helping to fulfill MIT’s broader mission to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world.

MIT OpenCourseWare fulfills a vital role for the millions of visitors that come to our site. OCW serves as a reference and a repository that supports a broad range of formal and informal educational activities not addressed by online courses. Faculty at universities around the world access our site to support curricular and course development. University students globally access our site to supplement the materials they've received in their classes. Entrepreneurs and professionals worldwide use OCW as a just-in-time resource for solving business challenges and updating their knowledge. And these users are overwhelmingly satisfied with the content they are accessing: 90% of users report satisfaction with the breadth, depth, and quality of the materials on the site, and 92% report satisfaction with the currency of the content with respect to the current state of knowledge in their field. 

The global community continues to indicate the value they find in OCW through direct support. OCW has recently welcomed two new major corporate sponsors together providing $500,000 of support in the current fiscal year; OCW generated $350,000 in small gifts last fiscal year and is on target to reach a similar number this year; and grant funding for innovations such as our new OCW Scholar courses also provides significant support for core publication activities. Investments such as these are a clear sign that OCW continues to be a project generating significant global benefit.

The OCW site is also an invaluable piece of the academic infrastructure here at MIT. It serves the faculty and students alike as an in-depth advising tool. Nearly half of the MIT student population use the OCW site to select classes, and 53% of faculty agree that students have better advising information available to them through OpenCourseWare.

Students use the site to look forward to courses and concepts they will study in subsequent years, look back to review concepts covered in previous years, and look broadly across the curriculum to understand how the interdisciplinary challenges they face – whether in studying cancer, climate change, or energy – are being addressed in other disciplines. Faculty likewise use the site to better situate their courses in the curriculum with respect to the teaching of their peers, both within departments and across them. The MIT community also reports high levels of satisfaction with the currency of materials on the site, with more than 83% of faculty reporting satisfaction in surveys.

There is little doubt that we are entering a period of change and uncertainty for higher education, where the topics addressed are increasingly complex and the teaching methods we use will be in flux. Through OCW, MIT has built a tool that will help manage that change and share the fruits of our ongoing educational innovations. As teaching innovations are developed through programs like MITx – and the work of individual faculty members across the Institute – OCW will build awareness of educational innovation at the Institute and help our educational community and the world understand how all of these projects relate to the overall MIT experience.

This winter, the OCW Faculty Advisory Committee has been working with the OCW staff to shape a new OCW initiative that will share not just the content that MIT uses in teaching – the original OCW model – but also explicit information on how we teach at MIT. This will potentially include pedagogical statements from and interviews with participating faculty, links to exemplary teaching practices, showcases of educational innovations, and other framing information that places the content shared in context of our teaching philosophies. We expect that this effort will serve the Institute very well in the coming years as we continue to understand the impact of digital technologies on the educational process.

Maintaining the breadth and currency of OpenCourseWare will require the ongoing commitment of the MIT faculty to share the content we produce for our courses. The OCW staff has done a remarkable job over the past 10 years of supporting the participation of most of the faculty in publishing their material, and the site currently contains content from about 75% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty. Most participating faculty report spending five hours or fewer in work related to publishing their course content on the site, and find publication to be very rewarding, both in having their materials nicely formatted for the site and in the feedback they receive from site users and peers around the world.

As we move forward with MITx and other pedagogical experiments, we urge members of the faculty to maintain their commitment to MIT OpenCourseWare and continue to share the course content that has made OCW the premier open educational resource in the world, as well as a unique and invaluable resource for the MIT community. For those interested, we invite you to take the further step of joining the Advisory Committee’s proposed effort to build a deeper view into the pedagogies in use at MIT, making MIT OpenCourseWare even more valuable for the world and the Institute. The OCW staff will be reaching out to faculty about this initiative in the coming months, but we also welcome suggestions for innovative ways to share MIT’s teaching approaches at

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