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Gateway to MIT's programmes

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. has made available on the Internet learning material pertaining to 700 of its courses. And this educational resource comes free.


When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a premier university in the United States (U.S.), announced its intention to make available its course materials on the Internet about three years ago, a student in distant Nigeria felt that his dream had come true.

"I am a Nigerian student who has dreamt all his life of studying in MIT. Thanks a lot for making this dream come true, for if I can't come to MIT, MIT has now come to me," he told MIT.

In the succeeding months, MIT has gone to millions of students, scholars and teachers in virtually every part of the world. The Website has registered over 2,500 lakh hits between September 29, 2002 and January 31, 2004, out of which 81,68,600 were from India alone. (URL: http://ocw.mit.edu/)

Surprisingly, the statistics seems to indicate that India, despite its vast pool of English-knowing students, is not making as much use of this resource as neighbouring China, which logged 94,77,551 hits during this period. Among the other countries that accessed the Website most, the United Kingdom (U.K.) came next with 86,11,586 hits, followed by India.

Limited access to the Net and the fact that the courses are not very relevant to the students' immediate study environment could have led to poor awareness about the site, explains M.D. Baby, librarian, Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat). Asked for her feedback on how this site was being viewed in the State's only science and technology university, she added that now many students at Cusat do access the MIT site.

MIT OpenCourse Ware (OCW), which made available material relating to 32 courses online when it was launched in September 2002, now boasts of over 700 courses. "The idea behind OpenCourse Ware is to make MIT course materials used in almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects available on the web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world. The hope is that OCW would advance technology-enhanced education at MIT, and would serve as a model for dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age," explained MIT project staff when they launched the project.

MIT is committed to publishing virtually all of MIT's courses by 2008. Just a year after the launch of the site, it achieved its first major milestone on September 30, 2003, when it published its 500th course online.

What MIT has made available online are lecture notes, calendars, assignments, reading lists, examinations, problem sets and solutions, multimedia simulations and video lectures which, apart from their inherent educational worth, also provide an insight into how the institution structures its courses and learning methodology.

At the same time, MIT has made it clear what this initiative is not: a substitute for MIT education. It is not intended to represent or replace the actual MIT interactive classroom environment. And it is not a distance education initiative. The project does not offer interaction with MIT faculty.

But the project is tantalisingly headed towards creating online learning communities in different parts of the world. It has embarked on a pilot research project under which selected courses would offer "links to learning communities, where individuals around the world could connect with each other, collaborate, form study groups, and receive support for their use of MIT OCW materials in formal and informal educational setting."

It is being implemented jointly with the Open Sustainable Learning Opportunities Research Group in the Department of Instructional Technology at Utah State University. Called Open Learning Support (OLS), it aims at building up `social software', that "enables informal learning communities to form around existing open educational content."

MIT online

MIT departments that have made available their course material online are the following:

* Architecture

* Biological Engineering Division

* Biology

* Brain and Cognitive Sciences

* Chemical Engineering

* Chemistry

* Civil and Environmental

Engineering

* Comparative Media Studies

* Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

* Economics

* Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

* Engineering Systems Division

* Foreign Languages and

Literatures

* Health Sciences and

Technology

* History

* Linguistics and Philosophy

* Literature

* Materials Science and

Engineering

* Mathematics

* Mechanical Engineering

* Media Arts and Sciences

* Music and Theatre Arts

* Nuclear Engineering

* Ocean Engineering

* Physics

* Political Science

* Science, Technology,

and Society

* Sloan School of Management

* Urban Studies and Planning

* Women's Studies and Writing

* Humanistic Studies.

T. Ramachandran

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