Anant Agarwal, a professor of MIT’s EECS department and President of edX, a worldwide, online learning initiative of MIT and Harvard University, was interviewed on the Colbert Report about the phenomenon which is Open Source within higher education. During the interview, when asked about how it could be a good idea to offer a U.S. education to everyone for free he stated, “So, we’re giving away education. So, this is going to be good for the world. An educated world is a better world for everybody.” (Inside Higher Ed, 2013) There are a number of different ways to receive a free education available today for those who are willing to go out and find it. From MOOCs to free degrees online through schools like University of the People, there is no shortage of ways to access a free education.
MIT Open Courseware, found at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm, completed its initial publication of the materials from 1800 of the courses offered at MIT in 2007. “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone” (MIT Open Courseware, n.d.). The President of MIT, L. Rafeal Reif, in his message on the OCW site explains that “MIT’s mission statement charges us to advance knowledge and educate students, and to bring knowledge to bear on the world’s greatest challenges for the betterment of humankind. Open sharing of knowledge is the purest manifestation of this mission” (MIT Open Courseware, n.d.). The faculty of MIT uploads the materials from their face-to-face courses to the Open Courseware site in the hopes that those who want to find the knowledge can do so at no cost, anytime, anywhere.
The idea behind the MIT Open Courseware site follows the Theory of Independent Study proposed by Charles Wedemeyer most closely as it emphasizes “learner independence and adoption of technology” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). It gives the learner complete independence to take the materials presented and to use them as they see fit to learn the content. The adoption of technology comes from using the internet to access the materials and in some cases, where the course offers, to view video presentations. Wedemeyer does say that the relationship between the student and teacher is important (Smaldino et. al, 2012) and this is where these course offerings from the MIT Open Courseware stray from the theory as a distance learning model. There is no real relationship built with these courses between the teacher and learner as it is really more of a repository of information.
Essentially, these courses are the materials from the face-to-face courses offered on campus at MIT made available online to anyone. The courses include a syllabus, a calendar, suggested readings and assignments. Some of the courses also offer video or audio lectures, lecture notes, online textbooks, example student work, assessments, and interactive simulations. In the sense of these courses being consider distance education as proposed by Simonson et. al., they present a very loose interpretation. The definition for distance education proposed by Simonson et. al. (2012) is an “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (p.32). These courses meet all the criteria except for the interactive telecommunications. However, the courses are not developed with the online learner in mind. The courses are, in using terminology from the Equivalency Theory, identical and not equivalent. However, these courses are free and thus the expectation of “equivalency” would be unrealistic. The materials are available, what learners are able to glean is completely at their own discretion.
In evaluating this site and the courses offered for the sake of distance learning theory and the focus on the distance learner as an audience there is a definite disconnect from what is being outlined by Simonson et. al. However, for the purpose of the site and the mission of MIT, this site and its courses are meeting its goal. I think there is great value in these materials as they are available to those who are looking for the knowledge that is offered here. To learn from professors from an institution such as MIT, even if there is no two way interaction, is a great benefit. I, for one, plan to take advantage of this resource now that I am aware of the offering.
Inside Higher Ed. (2013) Colbert Report Explains MOOCs. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/ quicktakes/2013/07/26/colbert- report-explains-moocs
MIT Open Courseware. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.