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OpenCourseWare Program Begins Web-based Pilot

By Vincent Chen


The OpenCourseWare initiative, a 10-year, $100 million project to make materials from nearly 2,000 classes available online, recently moved into a pilot phase that will make a limited number of classes available on the Internet.

The OpenCourseWare (OCW) Transition Project Team, headed by Laura F. Koller, a multimedia producer for the Center for Advanced Educational Services, and Kyung Han, a consultant, began working with a few pilot departments in October, including the Department of Biology (Course VII) and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy (Course XIV). The transition project will run until March 2002.

The goal of the preliminary phase is to determine how OCW will work, what improvements need to be made to the original plans, and which site layout will work best.

“We have to start to develop a good understanding of the processes that will be required for ultimately producing OCW web sites for all the courses at MIT,” Koller said.

The test program is designed to help determine the best method for transferring course material to the Internet while giving some choice to faculty members.

The pilot classes will also address any usability issues. “We’d like to figure out an integrated interface ... so people outside the MIT environment will be able to easily navigate to the MIT web site and find the materials they are looking for,” Koller said.

Departments selected for diversity

Fifteen departments expressed an interest in being included in the test program, said Professor Steven R. Lerman ’72, chair of the faculty and chair of the OCW Interim Management Board. A few departments were selected, based on whether they “gave us a diversity of faculty, diversity in web savvy, [and] a diversity in teaching styles,” Lerman said.

Other factors taken into account included whether or not the department had resources in place to help faculty develop web content. The goal was to include some departments that have preexisting resources, such as Course VII, and some that do not, such as Course XIV. OCW will select groupings of up to ten classes from each department.

In addition, one class will be chosen from each of six other departments: Physics (Course VIII), Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Course VI), Urban Studies and Planning (Course XI), Ocean Engineering (Course XIII), the Sloan School of Management (Course XV), and a program in Speech and Communication.

“Our objective is to sample a number of courses from several departments on campus,” Koller said. “OCW wants to develop an understanding of the range of the types of course materials that are produced for students taking classes at MIT.”

OCW seeks executive director

The OCW Interim Management Board is currently conducting an ongoing search for an executive director. The Interim Management Board currently consists of Lerman, Physics Department Head Marc A. Kastner, Assistant Provost and Director of Academic Computing M.S. Vijay Kumar, Director of MIT Libraries Ann J. Wolpert, and Associate Dean of Engineering Professor Dick K.P. Yue ’74.

“The interim management board is basically charged with carrying the initiative forward ... until it has a full-time executive director,” Lerman said. “It has to recruit and hire a full time executive director for OpenCourseWare.”

The interim management board hopes to find a permanent executive director in the near future. “By the end of the calendar year we will have announced a person to be the executive director of OpenCourseWare,” Lerman said. “The transition team ... will be developing web sites for maybe 20 to 30 courses as the early test phase rolls out.”