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OpenCourseWare is an MIT initiative to place all the information for its courses on the World Wide Web. They will be free of charge for anyone to use and learn from. Exactly what will be placed on the web is dependent on the particular class. For example, if the professor provides lecture notes to his students, then these will be available, but other classes may not have such detailed information available (maybe only problem sets or the syllabus). As the program matures, MIT expects the type of information that are made available to evolve in quantity, quality and format.

OpenCourseWare is not meant to be a replacement or even the equivalent of actually taking the classes. There will be no interaction with the professors or teaching assistants. "Students" will not be able to earn college credit through the program. However, the learning potential will still be there for both students and teachers. It is a matter of personal growth, however there will not be any official recognition.

As of 2002, MIT is still in a pilot program, slowly making the information available to the public, and expects to officially launch at the beginning of the 2003 academic year, reaching a finished state in 2007. At this point the university hopes to have placed all course related information on the internet.

MIT also hopes to improve its own courses through interaction with the rest of academic community. As students and professors from around the world make use of the material, all schools can benefit from learning about how the others present the information.

At this time a potential user accesses the system through its home page (http://ocw.mit.edu). There, they are presented with the various departments that have made some of their materials available. From there, you can navigate by selecting a particular class to get addition information about. For example, you can investigate 6.170 - the Laboratory in Software Engineering, or any other class whose material has been published as part of the pilot.

For this class, the professor has made nearly all of the material available. This includes the lecture notes, assignments, exams, labs, readings and even the tools that students use. All that is missing is the interaction with the instructors. However, someone who is self motivated can get a feel for the experience of the class, witness the work involved and learn the material (without the tight deadlines and all nighters - I think those are optional using OpenCourseWare).

Overall, this is a positive program where anyone can get an glimpse at the way that MIT teaches a subject. Former students can augment their past learning, and future students can take a look at the sorts of things to be learned in a subject area. MIT is now providing a permanent archive of the evolution of the education process. In the future it will be interesting to see how the online aspect of college education grows.

The negative is that much of the information provided on the site makes the assumption that the reader has access to the resources of an MIT student. For example, the 6.170 pages make references to zephyr instances, and Athena lockers. To most readers, these details may be confusing. Hopefully the site in the future can be more institution independent.

Information from the MIT OpenCourseWare Site

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