With the implementation of the sequester, a swath of federal budget cuts, MIT must answer some tough questions. What is our most valuable service to the world? Our research? Our undergraduates? Graduate students? What is our primary responsibility, and what do we value?
There are many ways to answer this question, but I’d venture to say that most of us would agree that MIT values knowledge and freedom. We never stop trying to learn about what excites us, and we often have the privilege of being able to choose how to do so. If we have a responsibility to encourage these values on a global scale, we need to ensure the sustained vitality of MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW).
OCW is the best way to spread knowledge throughout the world. We publish many books, but anyone who has bought MIT textbooks knows how painful they can be to read. We teach classes, but not everyone can be an MIT student. I believe edX, while it spreads knowledge, is perceived to be dumbed down and made easier so that potential users are less intimidated. OCW, especially OCW Scholar, gives a more accurate representation of MIT classes, containing all the most difficult components.
We value our ability to make our own educational choices — often hosing ourselves in the process. We have a late drop date so that we can choose what classes we want to take and drop them only if necessary. We don’t enforce prerequisites because we trust people to make their own mistakes. On the other hand, edX is very structured, and many people don’t operate well on rigid schedules. Instead, OCW gives students the freedom to work at their own pace.
Over its twelve years of existence, OCW has certainly proven its value. By integrating lectures, problem sets, and notes, OCW Scholar represented another step forward, and over the last two years, the program has already delivered the lessons of GIRs to thousands. OCW, not edX, will do more to promote the values of knowledge and freedom, but both still cost money. As funding for educational efforts is reduced, we must recognize that OCW is the best use of MIT’s money.