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OpenCourseWare’s (OCW) goal for the next decade, as presented on their website, is unapologetically bold: to reach a billion minds by the year 2021. But since the announcement of MITx and edX over a year ago, there understandably has been some confusion about how OCW will fit into the picture. All three share a common goal — to make an MIT-caliber education freely available to the world — and much of MIT’s material on edX (developed through MITx) is already available on OCW. With these seeming overlaps, what is the future of OCW?

In some sense, the future of OCW is what it is now and will continue to be: a static collection of material as presented in a class at MIT. Meanwhile, courses on MITx are interactive, complete with assignments, exams, grades, and feedback, offered on the edX platform. MITx aims to supplement and reinvent the residential learning experience for students on campus, and, according to Shigeru Miyagawa, chair of the OCW Faculty Advisory Committee, OCW will capture this shift in classroom material after the fact.

“It is pretty clear that technology will continue to migrate into the classroom, and change the ways people teach,” said Miyagawa. “MITx is changing the very idea of lecture, and the professor-lecture format will continue to evolve. When you ask about the future of OCW, the real question is, what will residential education look like? And OCW will be a reflection of that.”

According to Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s Director of Digital Learning, OCW’s staying power comes from the specialized role it occupies in MIT’s online learning initiatives.

“MITx and OCW serve very different purposes. MITx is a class — students follow a fixed schedule with predetermined deadlines, while students using OCW can go at their own pace. There are some who prefer one to the other … the future of OCW is bright, and it could be the place we place the nuggets that make up an MITx class.”

Miyagawa adds that with material from 2150 classes, OCW is a much broader presentation of the courses offered at MIT. “You can imagine students on edX using OCW to review prerequisites or using it as a followup to their edX course,” he said.

Future initiatives

OCW has four key initiatives for the next decade, focused on improving the publication, spreading OCW around the world, serving key audiences, and creating communities of learning.

One upcoming feature is OCW Educator, a project designed to supplement existing courses with material about best teaching practices. OCW will also continue to develop its materials for high school students, and its Mechanical MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) project — a “MOOC” using pre-existing resources such as OCW, CodeAcademy, and online learning forums. Launched in Oct. 2012, the “MOOC” uses mailing lists as the primary means to coordinate student activity. In the future, one could see more courses that follow a particular theme, such as the Energy Studies minor currently on the site.

Funding and resources

OCW receives half of its roughly four million dollar operating budget from the Office of the Provost, and the other half from donations, grants, corporate sponsors, and fundraising efforts. Though OCW had a shortfall of roughly one million dollars last year, Carson says OCW has enough reserve funding to last for a couple of years, and will focus on finding new revenue streams and strengthening existing fundraising efforts.

In addition, MIT’s commitment to OCW is strong. According to Sarma, the future of OCW, MITx, and edX are inextricably intertwined. “What happens in the next 100 years is anyone’s guess, but MIT has made a game-changing move with edX, and because OCW’s mission is so fundamental to edX, I see both of them being a part of MIT’s contract with the world and its students. For the foreseeable future, OCW is here to stay.”

Sarma adds that funds that go toward MITx could also be shared with OCW. “Since OCW has become a fundamental feeder into MITx’s pipeline, the effect is that much of the operating budget can be shared over time. The net operating budget will go up, it will just be harder to tell precisely which funds went into which effort. The idea is to work it into our system so that MITx becomes a natural outcome of OCW.”

MITx and OCW Collaboration

According to Steve Carson, Director of External Affairs for OCW, since the development of MITx and edX, traffic to OCW has jumped. OCW features a link to edX on its front page, and edX links to OCW in its curriculum as well. “The MOOCs have been good for us, driving lots of traffic. We have between 1.5 to two million visitors a month now, and we see lots of people who come from edX, don’t have time to do the class at that pace, and study on their own using OCW.”

Far from detracting from MITx, OCW has been instrumental in getting the year-old MITx off the ground. Both offices are overseen by the Office of Digital Learning, and two employees of MITx are former employees of OCW. Furthermore, because of the overlap in workflow OCW and MITx share — both offices obtain material and publish it to the web — MITx has been able to take advantage of processes already set in place by OCW, according to Carson.

For example, with some modifications, videos captured for OCW can be adapted for MITx, and OCW can obtain permission from faculty to publish their material to both MITx and OCW, saving an additional request from MITx. Carson says there is a high degree of collaboration between the two offices.

“OCW has a lot of experience in publishing content and working with faculty,” said Carson. “As MITx is built, we can lend OCW staff to support their work and bring a level of structure to their team as they continue to develop new content.”