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MIT OpenCourseWare Now Online 179

peter303 writes "A sampling of MIT's OpenCourseWare selections appered online today. The courses cover a full range of departments, but only a couple apiece. The material ranges ranges from just syllabi and calendars to extensive on-line course notes and interative demos. To succeed, OpenCourseWare must also be an advantage to MIT faculty and students, as well as the outside world. I think this may be possible, because it gives a uniform appearance and access point for online material, plus tools to build these."
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MIT OpenCourseWare Now Online

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:35PM (#4362007)
    I was eagerly awaiting the launch of this program, and unfortunately am now a little bit dissapointed. I think it is a fantastic idea in principal, but most of the classes don't seem to offer much. A handful (especially in the mathematics department) are excellent and even have videotaped lectures that can be seen online.

    Others have only thin offerings, such as lecture notes alone. In some cases the lecture notes are extensive, but in others they are just minimal outlines of the lecture and are not useful if you did not attend this lecture. (These could be made useful if video lectures were subsequently provided)

    I'm interested to see if other course directors follow the lead of the better prepared OCW sites. I think there is great potential, but it remains to be seen exactly how OCW will fare.

    • by BoomerSooner ( 308737 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @03:00PM (#4362204) Homepage Journal
      doesn't happen over night. The simple fact that they are moving in this direction is wonderful in my opinion.

      Now when do I receive my diploma in the mail for as little as $39.95 as the email stated?
    • Well I can safely say I passed my linear algebra class partly due to the video lectures I got from MIT. :)
    • me too. But then I read they're schedule and wrote to their help email about what I wanted OCW to become... here's part of the response:

      We are still in the pilot phase of MIT OCW. As we discover more about the
      challenges and possibilities of MIT OCW, the Web site and its course materials
      will continue to grow and evolve. ...


      anyway as another poster put it...give it time.

      I'm very excited about this program
  • by JoshuaDFranklin ( 147726 ) <joshuadfranklin ... AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:35PM (#4362010) Homepage
    From 14.33-Economics Research and Communication

    The required text is Writing Economics by Neugeboren and Jacobson. You do not need to buy it. A copy will be provided for you. You are expected to read this text and follow its instructions in the work you hand in for this class, even though we will not cover the text in detail in the lectures. Other texts you might want to consult are A Guide for the Young Economist by Thomson, The Practice of Econometrics: Classic and Contemporary by Berndt, Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Stata® manuals, and The MIT Undergraduate Journal of Economics.

    Humpf. So where do I sign up for that?

    • Clarity (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tomblackwell ( 6196 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:43PM (#4362062) Homepage
      I think the point that they are trying to make is that you won't do well in that course if you can't write well. Which is true for many courses in University.

      At least they are offering some resources which might help those who have trouble communicating well in their written work.

      I guess one might argue that writing well is something that you learn by writing often. You can buy books that will help you, but this is one of those courses that you won't master through acquiring new facts from your text.
    • The texts and journals listed are an excellent view of the presuppostions those who will grade you bring with them to the course. Obviously the old threesome of rigour, robustness and elegance require some specific refinement in light of the requirements of the course. Be grateful you're not being presented a heavy course load uninformed as to the necessary information given you in this course.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:37PM (#4362024)
    Excellent news. However, I feel it's necessary to point out that because the courseware is heavily based on the work of others, it's only proper to credit them with the naming of the courseware. I propose "Einstein/Edison/Socrates/Plato/Fermi/MIT/OpenCour seWare"
  • by wackybrit ( 321117 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:38PM (#4362028) Homepage Journal
    MIT's enthusiasm for this project is refreshing, and certainly quite encouraging. But online education is not particularly new, and all that MIT are adding to the mix is a qualifications system, which could certainly be quite handy.

    The role of education in modern society, however, is under question, since the ability to look up facts instantly (rather than knowing them) can make people appear to be a lot smarter than they really are.

    I have no problem with this. I'd rather people had common sense and an ability to use information, rather than just being a know-all.

    If you need to hire a programmer to write a proprietary TCP/IP driver for your new device, you can hire someone who a) is expensive and a TCP/IP driver expert, or b) someone who is cheaper, very smart, can turn their hands to anything, and uses the Internet to research how TCP/IP drivers work. Most companies these days would choose person B.

    And the main point?

    Education is overrated, since anyone with a decent IQ and a large reference library (say.. the Internet) can work out how to do things that you once needed a degree to do.
    • by LinuxInDallas ( 73952 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:50PM (#4362122)
      The role of a college education isn't force you to memorize facts, but to learn how to solve problems. That's why a good number of engineering classes these days are open-book or open-notes. The only time I have found this to not be the case is when the professor has had a hard time finding meaningful questions that wouldn't require a couple hours to complete. In those cases closed-book was necessary to allow some "show me what you remember" type questions to creep in. Simply memorizing facts gets you nowhere, although you MAY be able to dazzle an easily intimidated interviewer by spewing out some facts.
      • The role of a college education isn't force you to memorize facts, but to learn how to solve problems.

        Yeah, I 'warezed' the sum total of all Human Knowledge (v8.1), and have the storage capacity to keep it all in short-term memory, but I can't find a good correlation module to make sense of it. :-(


      • /me recalls fondly the days of seeing how much info could be crammed onto a 3" by 5" index card. That was the standard ammount of info most professors allowed us to carry into a test that wasn't open-book. I probably learned as much making the card as I did doing any problem set. It forced you to decide what was really important.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So, the Internet being what it is (vast and full of erroneous information), how does your hypothetical ignoramous know when he/she has found the correct answer?

      A real puzzler, eh? Maybe that degree isn't as worthless as you surmise.
    • I once read somewhere a quote that was pretty good.."An MIT graduate has no more elightenment than say a library employee that loves to read, or a Blockbuster employee for that matter."

      I completely believe education is desire, not location.
    • Maybe the reason that we have such crappy software is because companies don't hire people who know their stuff.

      Education is not overrated, IMO. Education is not about memorizing facts and figures, it's about learning how to learn. You have to do that on your own in college, they just say 'learn this'. Then you have to figure out how to learn it and reproduce what the teacher wants on the homework and eventuatly a test.

      Also, 'being smart' is possiably one of the hardest things to determine about a person. If you can detect intelligence then you are a might gifted person. Most of the time it's very hard to tell if someone is faking it. Some people just don't come off as being really smart, but will solve anything you tell them to. Interviewing someone for 'smarts' is really hard.
      Some people don't work well under extreme pressure, some do. Those that do tend to be percieved as 'smarter' during the normal interviewing process. While a much smarter person that gets flustered in a position like that may be percieved as being less capable, even if under normal working conditions they can perform much better.

      Also, it's nice to have people that don't totatly rely on the internet (or any book) for knowledge. If you are always checking the internet for the 'right' way to do something, then what about when you are in a meeting with a client and you can't access the internet. Just BS it and pray?
      • Some people don't work well under extreme pressure, some do. Those that do tend to be percieved as 'smarter' during the normal interviewing process. While a much smarter person that gets flustered in a position like that may be percieved as being less capable, even if under normal working conditions they can perform much better.

        I would hire the guy who holds up to pressure 99 times out of 100. The last thing I need is somebody who craps out when a deadline is approaching and a last minute bug is discovered.

        I knew a guy in college who did great in his classes but just seemed to be dumb as a lump. After taking a few exams with him I realized what it is. He is just extremely fastidious. He takes every minute that the professor will give him to go over the exam. The problem is that in real life you don't have the time to go over things 10 times. You have to get it right the first time or as damn close as you can.
    • Most companies these days would choose person B.

      Most companies these days would advertise for someone with 20 years experience writing TCP/IP drivers in Java in a Novell Netware environment.

    • Education has always been overrated. Everybody learns at different speeds and learn faster with different methods. Traditional education puts everybody on the same treadmill - some students have to run to catch up and others have to stop and wait while everybody else catches up to them. What's even worse is that a student that is working at the right pace probably doesn't receive any of the attention from the teacher.

      A well-designed online training option (which this is not purporting to be) will allow a student to work at his/her own pace, receive individual attention from the instructor (via email often but sometimes via telephone), and take advantage of all the information the internet has to offer.
      • Education has always been overrated.


        Everybody learns at different speeds and learn faster with different methods

        True. And if I want to hire someone who can assimilate information and use it fast enough to do the work I need to do, then I will probably want to hire someone who could learn and do fast enough to get through a degree program.

        • Horseshit.

          That might be the worst argument I have ever heard. Don't you have anything better than that? All a degree program proves is how much money you have. Once you get into the real world you will realize that a college degree is necessary but after your first job no one cares where you got it from. Just wait - you'll see.
          • Just wait until you hire a few people and see which ones fall apart under pressure.

            A degree program proves how you managed to make it through a degree program. The lack thereof shows a lack of ability to muster all of the components of completion, ie. resources, determination, intelligence, the ability to stick with and attain a goal.

            Higher education is like an obstacle course. If you want to, you can say that it trains you to get through obstacle courses. Or you can decide that if you need someone with some stamina, some ability and the desire to finish something, you might want to go looking at those who've completed an obstacle course, rather than those who could've given enough time, or a ride to the obstacle course, or long-term, low-intensity obstacle course training.
          • Horseshit.

            That might be the worst argument I have ever heard. Don't you have anything better than that?

            No, "horseshit" is a damn good argument. Concise, vivid, unambiguous. You're just jealous of his college edumacation, mebbe? ;-)
    • by LoRider ( 16327 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @03:13PM (#4362285) Homepage Journal
      You are right. But remember that taking all those math classes really had little to do with math. What you really learned to do is solve problems and organize your thoughts. That is the goal of most classes, it's not always obvious what they are teaching you until it's too late and you learned something else - a more important lesson. Those sneaking teachers.

      Memorizing the Constitution is fine, but it aint going to get you a job. Knowing how to think logically and knowing when you don't know something is the key to being successful in most careers.

    • Education is overrated, since anyone with a decent IQ and a large reference library (say.. the Internet) can work out how to do things that you once needed a degree to do.
      Please use your decent IQ and Internet access to work out how to solve boundary value problems. And if you don't understand how this is relevant to programming, then work that out too.

      Let me know when you're done.
      • There are plenty of folks out there with degrees who haven't had a single semester of Calculus, let alone DiffEq or Advanced Linear.

        But these are bundled with the people who make asinine statements like the original poster's "education is overrated." Liberal arts, humanities, social science, and so on might be overrated, but hardcore programs in the sciences, with the intense focus on calculus and physics required, are not even considered by people who say such things. They hear "education" and they think "MBA", and the face on that is generally some boss who has no technical inclination (let alone, understanding of number theory or quantuum mechanics!)

        To the OP's credit, though, I must say that whether your differential calc is self-taught or you've done it in a university, you still will have largely taught it to yourself. Sure, you get some of the knowledge from lectures, but the bulk of the learning comes from doing problem sets in books, and researching various sources of information, including, yes, the Internet.

        As long as there are people with BS's and MS's working for $50K/year, the OP does have a point.

        While I agree with your sentiment, I must say you chose a poor example. Are you by chance struggling with upper calc right now yourself?

        • Heh. No, I got my BS (in math, not CS) a while back. Now I'm back for my MS in CS. That's why I chose that example, BTW -- most of the CS majors I was in classes with as an undergrad never got past single-variable calculus, and it showed. It's not that they were dumb or ignorant -- far from it -- but they were definitely missing some of the math background to handle upper-division CS like algorithm analysis and database theory, and they didn't even know why they were having problems.

          And I can say (without a touch of false modesty [g]) that I am very good at this stuff; multi-variable calc, linear algebra, and diff.eq. weren't exactly easy, but I didn't struggle that much -- because I had good teachers, I went to class, I asked questions in class, and I studied the material. Without that experience, there's no way in hell I would have understood either math or CS at a deep level; I might have picked up some books and taught myself much of it, but it wouldn't be the same.

          And that's why I'm doing well as a CS grad student, and why I'm a damn good programmer on the job as well. Being a really good programmer requires knowledge that the vast majority of people simply cannot get out of school -- and if they don't go to school, they'll never know they're missing it.
  • Rather disappointing...

    One of them is a lab and the other seems to haved little to do with Computer Science - something about transportation planning.

    I would have expected the Comp Sci department to be at the forefront in this experiment in online course materials.
    • It's an optimization class. Read the description. Figuring out where to put the bus/subway stop and the traffic lights and the one way streets and everything else. Lots of complex optimization and finding minima.

      And if you don't think that finding minima is a huge part of computer science then you're not a computer scientist.
      • It is..but the course is also in Ocean Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering. It's more of a general engineering & logic class than anything. Computer Science has its roots in that, agreed. But that is one topic that most colleges teach already. If I were going to MIT it would be both for theory and just as importantly to learn on the bleeding edge of computing technology.
  • This looks like a good opportunity to realize your limitations. Taking courses at MIT, with the prof's, TA's, & classmates to confer with would be difficult enough.

    Taking the same things remotely / autonomously sounds impossible.

    When they put the courseware for St. Clair County Community College online, it might me a bit more accessible to us commoners.
    • Quite the opposite (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Space Coyote ( 413320 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:47PM (#4362097) Homepage
      It's actually quite the eye opener to be able to go through their mathematics courses and see how the material differs from the stuff they teach at my school. Most of it is pretty similar, and this certainly takes away the mystique that MIT had before I took a look at it all. I guess if your admissions standards and tuition fees are astronomically high that's enough too keep a stellar reputation.
      • I found that the material was the same, but the method of delivery was far more refined and comprehensive. I think I would have actually done much better at M.I.T. than the institution I studied at, because of this. The quality of the professors is evident in their lecture notes.
        • I agree (Score:3, Informative)

          by mizhi ( 186984 )
          Currently at MIT doing CS Grad studies. Both of my professors are excellent lecturers and the different between them and the vast majority of my professors at my previous institution are staggering.
        • I think this is about right. Top institutions are distinquished by the quality of both the students and the faculty. On the other hand, not everyone who is qualified is or can be at M.I.T., so there are a lot of people who can benefit from this material just as much as if they were able to attend, and others can absorb all of it at their own rate.

          When I was there as an undergraduate, I didn't think the curiculum was at a level above the rest, and I attributed most of MIT's reputation to the student selection process. I have come to realize that the background I got as an undergraduate was on a par with what most people get in a Masters program. You can pack more into a four year program if the students are all at a relatively high level.

          There is no reason why many institutions can't make it possible for their top students and faculty to keep pace and match these programs. The motivated individual could make this happen on their own. Technical material in particular are not as dependant on social maturity to succeed can be mastered by young geniuses if it is available.

      • Yeah.. Single variable calculus is single variable calculus no matter where you take it but I believe that in MIT they go through the material a little faster than in other schools and the workload given as homework or problemsets is enormous. I might be mistaken but I got the impression that MIT calculus 1 covers in a little over 3 months what other schools would spend the whole school year on.

        One of the nice things with for example the math classes is that you can take the basic .01 version (nothing special just the usual stuff), .01A (spend six weeks on what most schools do in a full year), .013A (calculus with applications), .014 (LOTS of theory, everything proven rigorously, only future mathematicians need bother).

        I should also point out that in addition to just the basic math classes there are roughly 150 additional courses(undergraduate and graduate combined) offered every year by just the math department with topics ranging from introductory courses in microlocal analysis to things like supersymmetric quantum field theories, cryptography/-analysis, wavelets, computational molecular biology, Stochastic Processes, Lie algebra, etc.. (yes there is lots of overlap between departmental topics)

        There's also 3 dozen more departments to choose from all with rather extensive course offerings. Just the summary listing in the course catalog with a one or two sentence description for every course takes about 350 pages.

        People going to mit tend to be little above average also. I've met few different students who are triple gold medalists in international math olympiads. Having looked at the questions and not really understanding where to even start with the problems I felt kind of dumb.. If you feel like being an mit math major take a look at this [win.tue.nl]
      • Just finished my M.Eng in EECS there, and there is quite a bit of difference between MIT (and most "top tier" schools) and the other schools, and its not just in the price tag. If you have ever read some of Feynman's books, he mentions that MIT is a great place, but it tends to be a little self-centered in most respects, and many of the people going there become inured to the idea of MIT as the center of the universe. I just mention this so that you take what I have to say with a grain of salt ... I loved MIT and think that it is the greatest place in the world.

        That said, I have had several long discussions about education with several friends, all of whom have been to different schools of varying different "degrees", from Ivy League to Local Midwest No-Name. The 3 biggest differences that I see between MIT and others is the quality of faculty, students, and resources.

        Faculty speaks for itself. Professors are doing full time research related to the class that they are teaching and usually only teaching one class. Most professors are also experts in their repective fields, and have scores of undergrad and grad assistants to enable them to develop some great course notes/problem sets/tests (usually).

        The quality of MIT's resources outshines those of almost any other university, especially in the EECS arena. What other university has equivalents to LCS (think W3), the AI lab (think Stallman), the Media Lab (think wearable-computing and other wacky antics), and RLE (think radar), just to name a few.

        The student population, however, is the single biggest factor that sets MIT apart from the rest. I did well in high school, figuring that I was probably the smartest kid in school (ego alert!). Then I go to MIT, and I am mediocre, surrounded by people who know more, have done more, and are much smarter that I can ever be. This sort of experience is eye-openingly humbling and incredibly wonderful, to be surrounded by people who are at the same level as you and can think on the same tracks, without you having to go and explain what it means for two computers to "talk to each other". I believe that just being around the MIT population for 5 years did more for me than anything else there.
      • It's actually quite the eye opener to be able to go through their mathematics courses and see how the material differs from the stuff they teach at my school. Most of it is pretty similar, and this certainly takes away the mystique that MIT had before I took a look at it all. I guess if your admissions standards and tuition fees are astronomically high that's enough too keep a stellar reputation.

        Well, duh! Math is math is math. It's based in fact. You can't change it. It's not like they can decide to teach Lagrange multipliers in one school, and Bazooka Joe multipliers in another. However, there are majors other than Course 18.

        It's the professors themselves who have a profound impact at MIT. Where else can you take a Biology 101 course taught by Eric Lander [mit.edu] (of the Human Genome Project)? Or how about having Sussman [mit.edu] teach your intro CS class? How about an Acoustics class taught by the guy who founded the Bose speaker corporation? And those wankers whining about the Big Dig in another thread today? Perhaps they could learn a few things in one of the classes I took, taught by one of the Big Dig masterminds, Fred Salvucci [mit.edu].


      • I took three calculas courses at the local commity college in high school. Didn't even cover as material as the first semester of MIT.
    • I've taken plenty of Distance Education courses here at SFU, and I find the staff/TA support to be exceptional. It's really nice when you're taking courses that use the opportunities distance ed offers to their full extent, because usually that means that you can reach TAs and instructors just about every day, rather than simply once or twice a week during their office hours.
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:41PM (#4362049) Homepage Journal
    Damnit, this is not just a good idea. This level of self-description should be mandatory for all universities. It's the first serious proof I've ever seen that the institution is actually doing something with all that tuition and grant money. Plus it provides a more solid basis for choosing a school than campus tours and the quality of the football team.
    • Uh huh... I'm sure many people attend MIT based on the skill of their well-respected football team.
    • It's the first serious proof I've ever seen that the institution is actually doing something with all that tuition and grant money. Plus it provides a more solid basis for choosing a school than campus tours and the quality of the football team.

      I agree. In the case of MIT, I bet most people attend that school because of their research reputation. I did the same for the school I went to, I selected it based on its research reputation, and as an undergrad (e.g. second class citizen); that's probably the biggest mistake I could have made.

      High schoolers; don't make the same mistake I've made. Select your University based on the popularity its football team and the quality of its cheerleaders squad. In hindsight, even if you're not interested in football; this rationale makes a lot of sense.

  • by systemapex ( 118750 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:43PM (#4362066)
    ...is that the lecture notes were far more comprehensive, and intuitive than those corresponding to the same course I took at a different university. One of the things I was looking forward to about this OpenCourseWare was comparing the teaching styles of professors from different universities. I've only checked out this one course (Laboratory in Software Engineering), but so far the score is 1-0 in favour of MIT. I wish I had these online lecture notes available to me when deciding on my university. Perhaps I would have made a better decision - I've yet to finish my degree (taking at least a year off) in CS in most parts because I just didn't feel I was at the right institution. This would have played an integral role in my decision making process if all universities made this material online and publicized it.
  • by cecil36 ( 104730 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:47PM (#4362092) Homepage
    ....hacking at MIT. Wonder if MIT hackers can create a fake page and alter the DNS entries so anyone going to the OCW page ends up at the hacked page.
  • by BookRead ( 610258 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:49PM (#4362110)
    I was there when this got started. If you expect all of the materials from every class online you're going to be disappointed. They decided that they couldn't do distance learning well enough to have the MIT brand on it (and make money) so this was the next best move.

    The Copyright Law (partly) gets in the way of putting all the course materials online. The other problem is sheer volume. It's going to take awhile before they figure out how to get all the stuff up there. Some subjects will work better than others. Math will probably do well, history will probably be not so good because of percentage of copyrighted stuff used in history courses versus math courses.

    It will get better and richer as they figure it out. It'll definitely be a good resource but it'll never be an MIT (TM) education.

    • As a degree holder in History I was actually disappointed that there was no material online from the History dept.

      I don't think that *most* of the lectures would contain copyrighted material. Sure there would be a lot of external reading that would need to be done but I don't see why the lectures themselves could not be posted online.

      Just as the other courses have done, list the required external readings and let the Internet readers find that material for themselves, it's not terribly hard.

      Part of being interested in History is research, it would actually make the readers of the online material more involved in what they are supposed to be doing anyway.

      just my worthless .02
  • Forgive me if this is available on the site, I might not have seen it, but is the software for creating this site available? Are there web based tools for creating the individual course pages and maintaining them? Are the eventually going to be open sourced? Does it make it easy for the professor to create the page (i.e. .doc to pdf conversion and so on)?

    At my school [utdallas.edu] we have a system that I assume we purhased called WebCT, and, frankly, it sucks. In fact for a supposedly technology driven school, we have some crappy resources. A bunch of sun workstations and 6 dollar copies of Windows XP, whoopteedo. I digress.

    However, in my rhetoric class we handle all document management (turning in papers, journal entries, teachers notes, etc) via an online service [utexas.edu] provided by the University of Texas Austin. Aside from some really hokey things (strands of learning? that sounds rather new age) it is an interesting way to turn in papers and recieve feedback. It is pretty raw, but it has potential.

    It is supposedly going to be open sourced (it is a php/mysql thing, I know because I saw the standard mysql overload page on it one day). Any other schools have systems like this? UTDallas does not, but then again, UTDallas sucks.
    • Well, I don't know about the whole site, which looks to be a fairly straightforward application of template-based content, the math pages (all I've looked at so far) make extensive use of Webmathematica.

      What I gather from reading some of the intro material is that MIT plans to release the content-creation framework; see goals; goal #2:

      "2. Create an efficient, standards-based model that other universities may emulate to publish their own course materials."

      My reading of the roadmap leads me to believe that the current incarnation relies on "manually coded HTML", with "standalone course sites", and this approach is expected to change dramatically in the coming years (Or until they decide it was a mistake to go online with it, due to the slashdot effect :-)

  • by ksquire ( 247844 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @02:51PM (#4362132) Homepage
    But, rather, more humble. They are...
    • to promote communication at MIT. They hope that everyone will be able to quickly find out what other people are teaching, what textbooks they're using, what's being covered, and what's not being covered.
    • "open source" the resources that go into course production. Obviously, then, to make this same information available to scholars elsewhere, so that teachers at other places can see what MIT is doing and borrow resources, compare notes, make suggested changes.
    • Challenge typical lecture classes. I think that they're hoping to challenge MIT faculty to think of what the 'value added' is to classes, so that people realize that learning is about more than 'dumping content' into students' heads, and consider the pedagogical use of classes more carefully.
    • Provide resources for self-study. Sure-- there is a hope that someone out there in Alaska or something will take up some resources and teach themselves something.
    • Challenging notions of what is university IP or not. As many know, who owns what syllabi that is produced by faculty is hairy; if MIT puts it on the web, they hope that this will deflate the whole debate, and make everyone realize that a syllabus is not synonymous with learning.
    • Provide a model for the universities in online spaces. I think they're hoping that this will at least challenge people to think beyond 'how can we make a buck off putting courses online' and realize the role that universities could play in a networked age for contributing to the intellectual commons.
    As I understand it, those are the purposes of open coursewear, roughly. They're really not thinking that people will train themselves so much, as they're thinking that it will help change the nature of discourse around universities in online education.

    • All the reasons you cite are good reasons for doing this. But most have to do with sharing information within MIT. Whereas the school has not only put this stuff out on the public web, they've made a lot of noise encouraging non-MIT people to come and use it.
    • Kurt, when do the good course materials come out? So far I've seen a few Lab course's materials, and they aren't terribly enlightening on what is learned at MIT. I realize you may no longer work at MIT, but when are we going to see what your average EECS undegrad's first related class material online? I mean, you can see pretty much everything but the professor's lectures online [ksu.edu]where I'm at, and you don't need to pay tuition for that either. I'd find how MIT chooses to present their introductory courses far more enlighening as a teacher than how MIT does their capstone engineering design courses.

      On a sidenote, hope joystick101.org [joystick101.org] gets put back up, I've got a few ideas burning that are being wasted on kuro5hin.

  • They will not get it right until they start invovling the staff in collaboration with the audience through weblogs(blogs), p2p chats and etc.
  • by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @03:00PM (#4362205)
    I really applaud the spirit in which MIT is releasing this. But I also wonder whether it's good for education and science in the long run.

    I think there may be too much of a tendency by professors to reuse educational materials. This may lead to a degree of standardization and uniformity of the educational experience that could harm progress. A diversity of approaches to problems results from a diversity of different experiences. That oddball approach some professor is teaching at a small university may just be the basis for the next important breakthrough, or at least make the school's graduates fill some important niche in science and engineering not as well filled by others.

    It's like languages, cultures, genetics, and ecology: we really do lose something important when global communications carry a few dominant paradigms (or organisms) everywhere. Monocultures of the mind may be more risky and costly than monocultures of plants.

    • I think there may be too much of a tendency by professors to reuse educational materials. This may lead to a degree of standardization and uniformity of the educational experience that could harm progress.

      You've never sat in a room with a bunch of University faculty members and tried to get them to agree on curriculum, have you?

      I have. It's ugly. Questions like "Should we say the word 'polymorhphism' in course X?" lead to endless religious wars and whoever brought it up eventually goes back to their office and hides.

      That aside, a University lecturer is (should be?) more than a reader. Everyone brings their own flavour to a course. I've never been able to use anyone else's lecture notes for a course. It just doesn't feel right--it's not yours.

    • I think there may be too much of a tendency by professors to reuse educational materials. This may lead to a degree of standardization and uniformity of the educational experience that could harm progress.

      This kind of "mad genius professor" model of innovation isn't really borne out by the facts.

      1. Increasing global communications is creating diversity as well as homogenisation. Certain things are being homogenised, but overall there's much more variation in knowledge and production of culture than previously. This can be verified by having a look around, or reading Mauro Guillen's comprehensive review [princeton.edu] (500KB PDF) of the evidence in his excellent book The Limits of Convergence.
      2. As another poster noted, standardisation has been happening through textbooks anyway. But more to the point, there are way more textbooks available now than there used to be, and a lot of teachers aren't up with them. There should be no excuse for tired profs wheeling out their favourite old chestnut that they learnt from and not paying attention to contemporary work in the field. Hopefully, something like Open Courseware will increase the pressure on educators to provide the best possible texts in their work.
      3. The whole idea of peer review, open source, and open courseware is that more eyes on the work are better, and why rewrite when you can reuse and modify. I've always scoured the web for what's happening in my field, then adapted, modified, or discarded to suit anyway - so I look forward to having some more highly reviewed content to build into my lectures!

      Open Courseware is just a great initiative. In my view any standardisation that does occur will be more than offset by the increase in quality of people's material, and the overall contribution to the field that open source/courseware encourages.


    • I really applaud the spirit in which MIT is releasing this. But I also wonder whether it's good for education and science in the long run.

      I think there may be too much of a tendency by professors to reuse educational materials. This may lead to a degree of standardization and uniformity of the educational experience that could harm progress.

      With OpenCourseWare MIT is boldly forcing universities to realize that higher education is not about educational *materials* but rather about the educational *experience*. Universities are *very* competitive these days and if professors choose to uncritically recycle MIT course materials without at least adding any personal insight, hands-on labs, and offering advice and office hours, then their university's reputation will quickly suffer.

      You're right that too many profs overly recycle their material but I think this initiative will actually decrease such reliance on educational materials as a crutch by making students and educators realize there's much more to an education than reading notes (the best profs and schools already do). Not to mention the social and real-life aspects offered by a residential experience...
  • I teach some CompSci courses in a small colombian college (its name better unknow).
    Ive found that many universities put online material for students, obviously THEIR student, but anyway is on the net, and many persons, included me, use this material in order to get ideas for classes, exercises, exams, etc. <br>

    Ive read some MIT courses material (from opencourseware), and it seems great, but not to much... coming from MIT...
  • ... The plural of syllabus is syllabus (with a long U.)
  • Great... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rovingeyes ( 575063 )
    This means that from now on less and less people will use those online (commercial) coursewares like www.knowledgenet.com [knowledgenet.com], as MIT online courseware clones will start springing up.

    It's delightful to know that people still want to make sure that knowledge will remain free.

  • OPEN and FREE information is. The vast majority of my college classes had comprehensive lecture notes and other reference materials (including old exams) online - getting it up there isn't hard.

    The difference was that access was password protected. The University viewed the material as property and expected people to pay for the classes to have access to it. If you wern't in the class, you didn't get to look at the material. After all, if you can get the material for free, why would you pay for a distance education class?

    "Back in the day" all sorts of university course and research information was available online - but then universities started taking most of it down. The information being online is unremarkable - that it's available for free is the unique part.
  • by jvmatthe ( 116058 ) on Monday September 30, 2002 @03:10PM (#4362270) Homepage
    I'm teaching a scientific computing (numerical analysis and programming) course at Duke right now, and I just sent links to a couple of these courses out to my students. Specifically Numerical Methods in Chemical Engineering [mit.edu] and Linear Algebra [mit.edu]. The former contains some good stuff, including a Matlab tutorial. The latter has Java demos including one showing an idea that I've already has a homework on (SVD). My class is already "paperless", in that the homeworks are all posted online and submitted electronically over email and grades are sent in the form of detailed reports for each student's submitted work. This fits right in with this online-only system.
  • The courses cover a full range of departments, but only a couple apiece.

    Apparently not from the English department, though...

  • one potential problem is the varying amounts of readings for class. A math class, with one etxt book, would be far more accessable, than say, a management or econ class with readings from a variety of journals.

    Some journals are available on-line, and public libraries often have access to databases for fee-based articles, but pulling the articles togetehr will often be difficult. Compounding this is the use of case studies, which are cash cows for schools such as Harvard. What would be real helpful is the availability of inexpensive ecucational access (with limited d/ls per month to keep non-ed users out) to anyone so they could get the 50 or articles/cases they need.

    Th etrade off is the potential loss of sales to traditional users (which can be as much as $20/student/qtr per class at BSchool) who get cases and articles online for less vs the addin sales potential as on-line use increases.

    At least MIT is pushing in the right direction.

  • I like it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Captain Penguin ( 469184 ) <will.herrick2@veriz[ ]net ['on.' in gap]> on Monday September 30, 2002 @03:20PM (#4362327)
    I'm taking Linear Algebra (Bates College) right now and we are using Gilbert Strang's textbook, "Introduction to Linear Algebra 2nd edition". The first section of OCW I went to was Mathematics and then Linear Algebra.. lo' and behold, 34 ~40minute long videos of Strang himself lecturing. I might not even go to my class anymore!
    • Take advantage of both!

      I worked at an MIT lab for 3 years, and for a few months, they offered a linear algebra course on site at the lab. It was strange because first they showed a video of Strang lecturing, but then he personally went up to the front of the lab class and asked if there were any questions. Interesting that he didn't do the lectures himself there, even though he was there.

      But he's a cool lecturer (I only attended 1-2 sessions before I went back to school). so, you should definitely take advantage of Strang's lectures, especially if it blows away your Bates prof.

      But you can also take advantage of the opportunity to go to class and try to clarify concepts that Strang's lecture may not have fully explained. You'd certainly be getting a much better education than just going to your own class, if you took it seriously.

    • by ashultz ( 141393 )
      The strange thing about Strang is how much like your confused uncle he is. No matter who you are. The kind of uncle that got lost in the closet at Thanksgiving and only now has been located, living off leather shoes in the back...
    • Sadly, the Real Media streams coming off the MIT site seem to be totally unreliable. Even across a DSL line, I'm not able to get through 10 minutes without the connection (and realplayer) going belly-up. Groan. So near, yet so far.
  • Makes me wish I was eight years old
    instead of 30
  • Especially the math/compsci stuff. See here [aduni.org]. You can even buy an entire drive filled with all course content [aduni.org].
  • How long before we begin receiving emails like this?
    Get an MIT Education for only $24.99! Our one-of-a-kind CD has lecture notes, diagrams, exams with answers and other materials provided by real MIT professors for HUNDREDS of courses.
    Of course, this will have to wait until MIT posts a few more courses...
  • This is a great experiment, and the material is very useful. I'm sure I'll be using it myself in the coming years.

    However, classroom learning *does not* really translate well online. Online coursework, if it's serious at all, requires a whole different approach- including several different kinds of interactivity. For MIT to offer *real* online coursework, it would require designing it specifically for that purpose, and probably producing it entirely separately. The reality is two separate universities- cyberspace and meatspace.

    That said, this is still pretty neat.
  • It seems that the lecture videos format (at least for Linear Algebra, which I checked) is Realplayer's [mit.edu]. Anyone knows whether it'll be provided in a friendlier format as well?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Most universities have been offering online resources for students and professors. But few offer substancial material for non-enrolled students. This makes somewhat sense, because after all if you want Ivy League education you should meet all the prerequisites and pay for it.
    Regardless, among the few institutions really puting what they have out there for anyone to benefit, Columbia University [columbia.edu] so far has the most to offer. Few schools come close to Columbia's Interactive department as far as content beyond an online syllabus. MIT seems to be in the right track, until they start making access to the general public impossible. I don't think it should be free (as it isn't at CI or Harvard), but at least reachable. Some other schools simply block access and give no options to outsiders/non-students.
    From a purely business perspective, as some one else already pointed out, making content available to outsiders gives University recruiters a great "businesscard".
  • Most courses at most univerisities have online web pages on which faculty frequently post their lecture notes (ppt or pdf slides), their assignments, the syllabus etc.

    MIT has done the simple (administratively complex) task of putting all this together and putting it online at one central place.

    UC Irvine [uci.edu] has a similar effort [uci.edu]; all UCI courses *have* to have a website with most of the course material online. I hope they see this MIT effort and take it to the next level of making it completely open and useful for the whole world.

  • Have a look at Daniel Jackson's Software Engineering lecture notes [mit.edu]. He begins talking about the importance of good design and then cites Netscape as an example. He claims that the reason Netscape lost the browser war was because of poor design. He makes some valid points, but its interesting that he declines to factor in Microsoft's illegal use of its monopoly and even claims that Netscape's determination to remain platform independent was also partly responsible.

    This sounds like Microsoft's commonly-touted line: "We didn't drive them out of business. Their incompetence drove them out of business." Is he teaching software engineering or business? He should stick to the former, because he's either inept or well-paid when it comes to the latter.

    1.4.1 The Netscape Story

    For PC software, there's a myth that design is unimportant because time-to-market is all that matters. Netscape's demise is a story worth understanding in this respect.

    The original NCSA Mosaic team at the University of Illinois built the first widely used browser, but they did a quick and dirty job. They founded Netscape, and between April and December 1994 built Navigator 1.0. It ran on 3 platforms, and quickly became the browser of choice on Windows, Unix and Mac. Microsoft began developing Internet Explorer 1.0 in October 1994, and shipped it with Windows 95 in August 1995.

    In Netscape's rapid growth period, from 1995 to 1997, the developers worked hard to ship new products with new features, and gave little time to design. Most companies in the shrink-wrap software business (still) believe that design can be postponed: that once you have market share and a compelling feature set, you can "refactor" the code and obtain the benefits of clean design. Netscape was no exception, and its engineers were probably more talented than many.

    Meanwhile, Microsoft had realized the need to build on solid designs. It built NT from scratch, and restructured the Office suite to use shared components. It did hurry to market with IE to catch up with Netscape, but then it took time to restructure IE 3.0. This restructuring of IE is now seen within Microsoft as the key decision that helped them close the gap with Netscape.

    Netscape's development just grew and grew. By Communicator 4.0, there were 120 developers (from 10 initially) and 3 million lines of code (up a factor of 30). Michael Toy, release manager, said:

    "We're in a really bad situation ... We should have stopped shipping this code a year ago. It's dead ... This is like the rude awakening ... We're paying the price for going fast."

    Interestingly, the argument for modular design within Netscape in 1997 was driven by the desire to go back to small team development. Without clean and simple interfaces, it becomes impossible to divide up the work into independent groups.

    Netscape set aside 2 months to re-architect the browser, but it wasnt long enough. So they planned to start again from scratch, with Communicator 6.0. But 6.0 was never completed, and its developers were reassigned to 4.0. The 5.0 version, Mozilla, was made available as open source, but that didnt help: nobody wanted to work on spaghetti code. So Microsoft won the browser war, and AOL acquired Netscape.

    This is not the entire story, by the way. Platform independence was a big issue right from the start. Navigator ran on Windows, Mac and Unix from version 1.0, and Netscape worked hard to maintain as much platform independence in their code as possible. They even planned to go to a pure Java version ("Javagator"), and built a lot of their own Java tools (because Sun's tools weren't ready). But in 1998 they gave up. Still, Communicator 4.0 contains about 1.2 million lines of Java.

    You can read the whole story in: Michael A. Cusumano and David B. Yoffie. Competing on Internet Time: Lessons from Netscape and its Battle with Microsoft, Free Press, 1998. See especially Chapter 4, Design Strategy.

    Note, by the way, that it took Netscape more than 2 years to discover the importance of design. Don't be surprised if you're not entirely convinced after one term; some things come only with experience.

  • http://ocw.mit.edu /6/6.170/f01/related-resources/java-qa.html [mit.edu]

    Every 'java' is replaced by:

    "Java(TM) Syllabus Calendar Lecture Notes Assignments Exams Required Readings Related Resources Labs Sections/Recitations Tools Projects"

    http://ocw.mit.edu/6/6.170/f01/tools/index.html [mit.edu]

    adds a little TM symbol to every 'java'.

    Results in pages that read like Scientology Fan Fiction [somethingawful.com]

  • We have a similar thing at Cornell University called Blackboard. It's a standard interface of class websites that is maintained through the browser so any professor can do it. It isn't publically available ot the rest of the world (all pages are password protected) but most of all it's slow as hell. I don't know many people here that like it.

    If MIT's page set turns out nice, is fast, and provides me another source of information in even greater detail than just HowStuffWorks.com then I think this is a great thing for all us non-MIT world members.

    In terms of MIT students and faculty, these pages provide employeers a glimpse of what the course offerings really cover, hopefully conveying the idea to potential employeers of students that they truely did get a good background in the material they may claim to on their resumes'.
  • by beachy ( 44887 )
    Whoa. 5.61 (quantum chemistry) looks identical to the 1990 version. Not that anything has changed in the last 12 years in undergraduate quantum chemistry, of course.
  • As a student in Glasgow, Scotland who received this [utexas.edu] University of Texas Austin document, badly pirated (diagrams still referred to but not included, no acknowlegement of author) as the main reference work for my relational databases class, I applaud MIT for this and look forward to enjoying their (uncredited) work in the near future. Gerald
  • I think that this is a great idea. All public universities should start doing it. Professors and students at any university now have more information available to them. Students can learn better and professors can teach better.

    Now the next steps.
    1. Start publishing textbooks online. The only people who make money off of textbooks anyway are the publishers and bookstores. Why not make the material freely available? Textbooks published by professors at public universities should be made available with an open copyright. Textbooks have become very expensive and limit a student's access to material. I used to try to read at least one other textbook in addition to the one that was assigned in class.

    2. Start publishing papers online. This is the same situation. A professor writes a paper that is published in the IEEE Transactions on XXXXXX. The information is now copyrighted and I have to pay to read it. This limits a student's access to the material.

    Freeing up this material and making it available electronically would have a strong effect on education and research.

  • is that the MIT site is really responsive, even with inevitable slashdotting. I'm impressed by how fast the pages are loading, which says something for the people who did the actual implementation. Way to go folks!

"Regardless of the legal speed limit, your Buick must be operated at speeds faster than 85 MPH (140kph)." -- 1987 Buick Grand National owners manual.