I’m a great believer in the open courseware concept that MIT has done so much to promote. The idea is to do away with the password-protected gatekeeper function that so many university and college Web sites impose, opening access to those course materials an instructor chooses to put online. Some 1800 courses in 33 different disciplines have made their way to the Web via MIT’s gateway, their offerings ranging from audio of lectures, lecture notes and exams to PDFs and video files. It’s a pleasure to see that Bruce Irving is tracking MIT’s venture on his Music of the Spheres site, a post I’ve chosen to highlight from this week’s Carnival of Space collection.
Bruce notes one recent addition to the MIT catalog, a course called Space Systems Engineering that looks at design challenges in both ground and space-based telescopes, ultimately attempting to choose the top-rated architectures for a lunar telescope facility. But the MIT offerings are wide ranging. I’m seeing courses on aerospace engineering, structural mechanics, aerodynamics, space propulsion, satellite engineering, and one that caught Bruce’s eye as well, a course called Engineering Apollo: The Moon Project as a Complex System, with guest lectures by engineers who participated in Apollo.
What’s unusual to me isn’t MIT’s bold attempt to make university resources available throughout the globe, but the fact that open courseware hasn’t become more widespread. Against the objection that it diminishes the likelihood that a student will apply to a given school, its courses being available online, I can only state the obvious: No degree program flows from open courseware, nor does the online experience in any way equal the rich and interactive environment to be found on the actual campus. Open courseware does not try to replace traditional education, but to augment it by making the fruits of intellectual inquiry more widely available.
Making that point is simple once you’ve gone through some of MIT’s courses, seeing that some are far more complete than others in terms of materials. But what an exceptional resource for those trying to get a handle on how a subject is structured in a university environment, its basic premises and strategies, and the background materials by which to approach it. I think, too, of how many teachers in more remote environments may find stimulus here to revise and expand their current offerings through online suggestions. Bravo MIT, and here’s to open courseware spreading to other great universities.