Online courses at elite institutions provide access to education
EDITORIAL | MITx currently leading the way
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 18:02
Since MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) began providing free online access to recordings of all its courses to the general public in 2002, hundreds of schools have joined in, giving anyone, anywhere, access to lectures by some of the greatest academics in the country.
According to the New York Times, over 100 million people have accessed OCW in the last 10 years. Now MIT plans to take its online lectures a step further: this spring, the institution will unveil a new program that will allow anyone with a computer to take the same types of courses as traditional MIT students and to earn a certificate of completion from the school's nonprofit branch upon mastery of the course material.
This is a bold and powerful move by MIT. The new program, entitled MITx, will continue to open up opportunities for anyone to learn from top professors in science and technology fields, just as OCW did. MITx has the potential to shatter income barriers by allowing anyone to prove that he or she can master advanced technological concepts and thereby earn a tangible certificate from a reputable institution, even if they cannot afford the cost of an American four-year university.
It's no secret that American students don't stack up well in science and math relative to those in European or Asian countries. The United States lags behind countries like Japan, China and South Korea when it comes to educating youth in fields of science and technology. MITx presents a great opportunity for Americans who would otherwise not have access to a high-quality education to learn about various scientific fields. MIT's initiative in providing this service may help foster a more educated population and a more capable workforce in a rapidly changing world.
While Wellesley may not be ready to provide web users worldwide with a certificate of completion, the College ought to consider following in the footsteps of such elite institutions as Yale and Stanford by putting videos of entire courses on the Internet for anyone to watch. The College must consider expanding its online offerings and record semester-long classes so that online learners can hear lectures from some of Wellesley's best professors. Such a program would probably be popular with faculty who would enjoy a broader audience. It could also resonate with alumnae by allowing them to follow courses that they missed at Wellesley and deepen their connection to the College. A Wellesley alum might want to endow such a project and call it "Bringing Wellesley to the World."
Wellesley already posts snippets of the Albright Institute and the Tanner Conference that are available for download through iTunes U. Many talks by visiting speakers are also recorded. Wellesley obviously possesses the technological capabilities to film lectures. Recordings would not need to be done by professionals, as many iTunes U courses seem to be the product of a simple, unmanned tripod. Wellesley also would not need to provide credentials or certificates for people viewing its courses. Subscribers are interested in sophisticated content, which Wellesley courses certainly provide. The College's decision to film and post talks from the Albright Institute signals a desire on behalf of the administration to share with the online community some of the best academic programs that Wellesley offers. Posting videos of popular lecture courses would be the next logical step.
Though MIT provides many with resources for personal, academic and pre-professional learning opportunities, online learning isn't a replacement for the traditional four-year college experience. Much of the growth in college occurs outside the classroom, as students learn independence and responsibility, while developing friendships that may last a lifetime and connections that will help them later in life.
The ultimate impact of MIT's efforts to offer a credential program for its online science and technology courses is unlikely to be felt for several years. Nevertheless, MIT should be commended for a great initiative to make access to lectures by top thinkers available to all.