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MIT's OpenCourseWare Program 167

Kent Simon writes "Many people may not know that MIT has initiated OpenCourseWare, an initiative to share all of their educational resources with the public. This generous act is intended (in classical MIT style) to make knowledge free, open, and available. It's a great resource for people looking to improve their knowledge of our world. OpenCourseWare should prove exceptionally beneficial to those who may not be able to afford the quality of education offered at a school like MIT. Here's a link to all currently available courses. It is expected that by the end of the year every course offered at MIT will be available on the OpenCourseWare site, including lecture notes, homework assignments, and exams. OpenCourseWare is not offered to replace collegiate education, but rather to spread knowledge freely."
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MIT's OpenCourseWare Program

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  • by lecithin ( 745575 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @09:37PM (#17533294)
    Here is a link for HP's free classes: []

    Who has more?

    • by 2.7182 ( 819680 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @09:45PM (#17533392)
      The most amazing thing is Gilbert Strang's linear algebra course. He is a genius lecturer
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Aye his video lectures really came in useful last semester when I was actually taking Linear Algebra and I needed more exposure to the material. Definitely good stuff and I now make it a point to look up the equivalent MIT OpenCourseware page to the class(es) I'm taking.

        On the note of online math tools, professor Paul Dawkins []from Lamar University also has his notes ranging from Calc I to Differential Equations and Linear Algebra online, not video lectures but much easier to read and follow than the DFQ'
    • HP != MIT (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The following analogy is apt.

      HP:MIT :: fat-penguin:F-22

      That MIT is providing essentially free knowledge is excellent news. Many intelligent people engage in self-study on various topics and need challenging homework assignments with solutions. Doing exercise problems without solutions means that you could, possibly, learn the material incorrectly and never actually realize your misunderstanding. After all, quantum mechanics is not intuitive.

      Your misunderstanding could lead to a malfunctioning

      • Re:HP != MIT (Score:5, Informative)

        by heroofhyr ( 777687 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:05PM (#17533626)
        More important, I think, than homework assignments is having the textbooks. And a large number of MIT's "open" courses lack the texts. It's rather useless if you're going there because you want to learn Subject X only to find that the only materials you have access to are some lecture videos and a few notes here and there. I understand that classes use books written by other people who have no intention of ever making that book free, but using MIT's OCW as a means of learning is far from a replacement for buying a book or going to a real course. Sometimes even a Wikipedia article provides more useful information about a given subject than all the materials about that subject offered for download by MIT combined. It might have changed since the last time I visited the site, but at the time it wasn't all that impressive except maybe as a refresher for stuff I already knew but hadn't used for ages.
        • While it does mean spending money, there's nothing stopping you from buying the books, though the prices on them can be... significant. For Single Variable Calculus [] (the first math course listed), the book used is Calculus with Analytic Geometry [], which seems to go for about $150 new no matter where you look. The book is also used in Multivariable Calculus [] and Principles of Aeronautic Control [], so at least it can be spread out a bit.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            While it does mean spending money, there's nothing stopping you from buying the books, though the prices on them can be... significant. For Single Variable Calculus (the first math course listed), the book used is Calculus with Analytic Geometry , which seems to go for about $150 new no matter where you look. The book is also used in Multivariable Calculus and Principles of Aeronautic Control, so at least it can be spread out a bit.

            I heard there's a place you can walk into that has rows and rows of shelves

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by amazon10x ( 737466 )
              Local libraries often don't carry newer items such as textbooks.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by EvanED ( 569694 )
                Even university libraries often don't carry them, and when they do, they're often on reserve so you can't take them out, and have to stay in the library. (Or have a very short loan period of a couple hours or so.) At least from my experience.

                However, for some topics, old editions can be great. For the calc book mentioned, the previous edition can be had from for as little as $5; $15 supposedly new. For something like calc, this should work pretty well unless the assignments are saying "do this prob
              • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                by H3g3m0n ( 642800 )
                Nobody in any of my classes buys the textbooks (other than the $7AUD printed notes), my OOP lecturer asked how many people had actually brought the book and only around 2 in a class of 50 had. Maybe its because I'm doing computer stuff and just about everything is available on line on Wikipedia or 1000's of other tutorial sites, compared to a paperback book thats less than 300 pages long and costs around $100AUD, also for most of it the printed lecture notes are generally enough. Not sure how it is with non
        • Re:HP != MIT (Score:4, Insightful)

          by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:08AM (#17535130) Journal
          I'm not so sure. It depends a lot on the lecture notes available and the instructor (if applicable). Now that my job has a tuition reimbursement program, I've gone back to school in Florida State's online B.S. in Software Engineering program. I'm only on my second semester now, but to be honest with you, the only reason I've cracked one of the obscenely overpriced textbooks in my C++ and Discrete Math courses is when graded "homework" was assigned out of them. My prof's lecture notes are almost like a textbook in themselves. (My Comp Org class is another story. The lecture notes are all in powerpoint, so that book actually gets read.)

          If the lecture notes distributed in OCW are any good, they may be able to make up for the obscene text prices. If not, two words will help: "Previous Edition."
        • by EvanED ( 569694 )
          More important, I think, than homework assignments is having the textbooks

          And also equally important in many topics is the ability to get feedback from the prof about your work. Suppose I do an assignment from MIT's intro CS class. It works, but now where can I get feedback about my design? About alternate approaches? For that matter, how can I be sure that I thought of everything the professor did? If I'm stuck on something, who can I turn to for help?

          There's a LOT more to what you get from a college educa
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rnjn,sinha ( 875383 )
      ArsDigita University [] has good material on Computer Science. They only charge for the DVDs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bdxdbxdob ( 600585 )
    • You can see two nice textbooks at Fundamentals of Compressible Flow and Fundamentals of Die Casting Design
    • by eh2o ( 471262 )
      Webcast courses from UC Berkeley: []
  • by chriss ( 26574 ) * <> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @09:37PM (#17533302) Homepage

    Don't get me wrong: Having the material available for free is great, even though a large part of the courses are incomplete in that they refer you to the standard literature for reference like most regular university courses will. But this is basically a logistic solution, a lot of knowledge is available today to anybody who can get hold of a library card at the local university and a lot of basic knowledge is no further away than the wikipedia.

    But you will find that the number of people studying advanced calculus or Sino-Tibetian languages outside of university courses is small, even though a lot of material is available for free. Learning complex subjects is a process, not just a question of getting the information, and the process (with tutorials and working with other students and asking questions and assignments and so on) is what MIT is still selling, the content of OCW is only a small part of that.

    Fortunately OCW is not simply free, but (at least partly) licensed under a Creative Commons license allowing non commercial sharing and remixing (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 []). While you may not be able to replicate the experience of studying at MIT, someone may take the content and add e.g. a technical communications layer.

    You are into advanced web 3.0 elearning platform development, but have no way to create the content? Take OCW, reuse what they have and give the world a new learning experience? You always wanted to write a shoot-'em up game based on and explaining the principles on quantum physics? You solve the DirectX/OpenGL/game engine magic and compensate your lack of talent as a physics tutor by using parts of 8.04 Quantum Physics I, Spring 2006 [].

    These are primitive ideas, but I think about OCW more as a basis on which people can experiment than a library. Libraries have been around for a long time, unfortunately the majority of people don't use them. To reach the masses, you have to somehow turn the content of OCW into something compatible to a game console. Give it a shot!

    • As some one currently doing a Comp Sci course at a Uni in Australia I welcome this sort of thing. Any information that you can trust is good information; structured information is so much better. I'll be taking full advantage of this sort of thing to supplement my current learning and for extra things I find interesting.
      Kudos to MIT and others doing similar!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zotz ( 3951 )
      "Fortunately OCW is not simply free, but (at least partly) licensed under a Creative Commons license allowing non commercial sharing and remixing (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 [])."

      And the NonCommercial option makes this gratis but not libre and introduces a large can or worms.

      Does anyone know why the institution that has the MIT License named after it felt the need to use a NonCommercial license?

      For instance, if I understand what I have read over at the creative commons maili
      • Does anyone know why the institution that has the MIT License named after it felt the need to use a NonCommercial license?

        Well, I can't speak on behalf of MIT, but I did take part in writing a series of lecture notes and (partially) converting them into a textbook. The professor who was teaching the course was fairly apprehensive about just releasing it 'freely' on the internet, for various reasons. One reason, which is relevant here, is that the whole field of online teaching material is in its infancy,
        • by zotz ( 3951 )
          "What MIT and others are doing here is testing unknown waters, and doing it carefully makes sense."

          In reply to this line of thinking I would say that you can test all you want with NC in the mix and you will never get an inkling of what the results would be like with a copyleft license. I think the licenses are different enough that you can't test one using the other.

          If it is testing they want, perhaps they should consider using copyleft licenses for one course, department, etc. ???

          "Perhaps some unknown "Un
    • I consider MIT OCW as a professor/teacher class instruction resource/content. I don't think the OCW project ever intended to replace academic book publishers or provide multimedia video sessions of a class day. OCW provides other professors/teachers around the world a new resource for course/class instruction/content development for conversion to other cultures, languages, and countries.

      Institutions like MIT, CalTech, Stanford, and Berkeley have never appeared (or proved, as best I know) to be as egotistica
  • awesome. (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @09:40PM (#17533340) Homepage
    This generous act is intended (in classical MIT style) to make knowledge free, open, and available. It's a great resource for people looking to improve their knowledge of our world.

    I'm going to combine this with my OpenGrading program. I predict a 4.0 this semester.
    • I'm going to combine this with my OpenGrading program. I predict a 4.0 this semester.

      That does not work very well []. It's funny how the world takes care of silly tricks like that.

      It would be better for you to spend time reading the coursework and apply it to something you do. In engineering, school and grades are a start, achievements are king. You can learn anywhere you are.

  • by MLopat ( 848735 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @09:44PM (#17533370) Homepage
    This generous act is intended (in classical MIT style) to make knowledge free

    My tuition there was in the tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago. Not complaining. I loved course VI. But free, is not typical MIT style, because as we all know, you get what you pay for.
    • by tmbg37 ( 694325 )
      They're not exactly open and available either, as my rejected classmates will attest to :-)
    • My tuition there was in the tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago. Not complaining. I loved course VI. But free, is not typical MIT style, because as we all know, you get what you pay for.

      You don't, though. There are many crappy, third-tier private colleges that cost more than MIT. The very highest universities are actually quite a bargain for what you get - a very good education, and much more importantly, who you meet there.

  • I must say, they have a very extensive listing, I'm really impressed. But is it wise to post all the exams, including the final? I can only assume that they give the actual students different ones which would relegate the online versions to mere practice. Tons of interesting materials, though. I think I shall enjoy picking through it.
    • From what I've seen, at least in Physics, the courses are only posted to OpenCourseWare after completion of the semester in which the course is offered at MIT.
    • Yes, their course selection has grown considerably since OpenCourseWare was first introduced. I was very anxious to check it out when it was first released years back, but at that time the courses available were limited, and some seemed to refer to materials which weren't available to those outside MIT. I'm looking forward to trying it again now that it has expanded.

      As far as the exams go, I wonder if they post actual past exams, then change them so that future students can't cheat? I would guess that a
      • I think the reusing exams thing is on a professor by professor basis. I had a physics professor who didn't reuse entire tests, but had a pool of questions that he would answer. And he wouldn't even change the numbers, just use the same questions over and over again. Oh, and the exams were open book, and he let you bring in whatever materials you wanted to. So, a lot of students, rather than study, took their time tracking down old exams. By the end, they had just about every question with them during th
    • by rbannon ( 512814 )
      Okay, I'm not teaching at MIT, but I typically post a lot of material on my website and it just forces me to redo the course each semester. It's a lot of work, mainly because I can't reuse material once it gets published.

      For those interested, here's one example site: []
    • by bir0 ( 315616 )
      In my experience at university here in Queensland, Australia, past exams are available in the library . They write new exams every semester. ...I never actually went and looked at a past exam though ;-) except for when a lecturer/tutor gave us a copy of example questions in class. We were the first group through a new course structure so lots of the assessment was being tried out for the first time too.

      I am thinking of taking a look some of the info in the MIT OCW to see if I might be interested in studyin
    • I've actually been using this for a while, just something to read when bored, and a lot of the coures are quite nice, especially the ones that have full course notes and video.
    • Re:The Motherload (Score:4, Informative)

      by Hawkxor ( 693408 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:14AM (#17535178)
      Almost all MIT classes write new problem sets and exams each year. However, previous years' exams are some of the best resources for studying, and a large selection of these are usually provided as reference material.
  • "Many people may not know that MIT has initiated OpenCourseWare [...]"

    MIT OpenCourseWare Now Online []
    On September 30th, 2002 with 179 comments

    And more much other older stories [].
  • I seem to recall downloading some of the OpenCourseWare stuff a year or two ago.
  • And now... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davecrusoe ( 861547 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @09:54PM (#17533494) Homepage
    Ok, so the content is (and has been) open... mostly (if you can get access to the journal articles and books). Now what some feisty OCW-fanatics should do is to start an OCW-compliant online course discussion / collaboration site, so that people who are interested in working through specific course material can all work together, and discuss, rather than operate, read, etc -- in isolation. After all, learning is a social enterprise... call it an open university...

  • How effective these resources will be depends largely on the learning style of those who plan to study, but what a great resource to have available. So many people could use it:

    a) High school students not challenged by their current materials have somewhere to go.
    b) Students at other universities who need additional resources can look here.
    c) Those simply looking to learn about the world around them have a low/no cost place to start.

    I'm sure there are many, many more. But this, in my opinion, is what c
  • I wonder if this is a move to cater more towards home schoolers.
    • I homeschool my kids. I'll definitely be looking at these courses for extra material. I'll also look at these courses for my own benefit too. I don't think that homeschoolers are of primary interest yet.

      I think MIT is realising that there are a lot of people out there who want informal education. I have a post grad degree but did not go further (PhD etc) because I thought I could learn much more by pursuing my own goals rather than following a university program. I think this approach has worked well for me

  • ....including "Operating Systems and Systems Programming" and "Machine Structures" are here []. Hopefully these are a good listen.

    I've also gotten through most of the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs [] lectures and although there's a lot of chalk-on-blackboard noises that you're not able to see, you can still pick up quite a bit of good info.
  • The course itself is not the point of going to college. If you did this instead of taking a course you would be missing out on the interaction with the professor as well as the connections/letters of recommendation you would get if you were actually attending MIT.

    On top of that you could take those open courses and understand the material better than anyone, but who do you think an employer is going to hire/grad school is going to admit? The guy who said he went through the open courses on MITs website or
    • In other words, it's not what you know but which instructors you slept with. I get it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by firstian ( 810484 )
      Having spent a few years at MIT doing a PhD, I agree with that. The most valuable things I got out of it (even though I didn't finish the degree) was able to live with the pressure of being surrounded by people much smarter than you. I spent pretty much all my waking hours working, playing, arguing with my peers in the lab. I was constantly exposed to new ways of thinking about problems, constantly lived in fear of not able to measure up. And then there are those dreaded oral exams. Ever since I was "tormen
  • Another interesting project, albeit with a very low profile so far and just getting started, is Sun's []. AFAICT it's intended to be a more corporate version of wikibooks (which has been a dismal failure, BTW) -- a wiki for making free textbooks. They prefer to use a the BSD-style CC-BY license, they're focusing on K-12, and it looks like they're not going to let people edit unless they're approved by Sun. (Being at least 18 is a hard requirement.) I guess my expectations for are low,
  • Under what license is this offered? Is the license compatible with GNU - FDL, and could this content be incorporated into Wikibooks or Wikiversity?
    • by JoshJ ( 1009085 )
      A Creative Commons license, but I'm fairly sure the noncommercial clause alone will make it noncompatible with GNU's FDL.
  • Knowledge (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JoshJ ( 1009085 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:07PM (#17533644) Journal
    This is a great way to have knowledge at your fingertips, but unfortunately even if you learned everything on the page, you would have exactly zero credibility, as you wouldn't have gone through the 4-5 years of actual schooling. It'd be great if there were a way to actually get credit for reading and studying this without paying MIT approximately $40,000 a year.
  • by miyako ( 632510 ) <miyako&gmail,com> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:10PM (#17533676) Homepage Journal
    I've used open courseware for a while now to do a few different courses. My University degree was informative, but there were certainly bits of information I missed out on. More importantly, since I graduated from school several months ago, it's been easy to get into the habbit of not thinking too much outside of work, so going through some of the material on OCW has been good for keeping me sharp and learning new things.
    The biggest problem that I've found is that the quality varies wildly. Some courses, like the intro to algorithms course, have videos of all lectures, as well as MP3 versions, course notes, etc. I find these really helpful since I'm more of an audio learner than a video learner and do better with a lecture to watch.
    Other courses are well fleshed out with PDFs and slideshows, which are still a great way to get information.
    The problem is some courses have only one or two lectures out of the entire course available, or are missing key lectures.
    I think that the OCW initiative is a great idea, and has been well implemented for some courses. I hope to see them get all of the courses up to par with the top quality ones.
    • I've been listening to the Introductory Psychology lectures, and they're wonderful. But for the majority of courses, all that's available is lecture notes, and sometimes not even that.

      It's a great thing that MIT are doing, but even so, the execution is a little disappointing.
      • by Hawkxor ( 693408 )
        I took that class in the year it was recorded, Wolfe is a great lecturer; too bad he doesn't teach at MIT anymore for dumb political reasons.
  • Wasn't MIT among the universities that started distributing [for a price] DRM'ed electronic books/lectures with a license [= ability to legally use] that would only last a semester or so?
  • It's really quite something to be able to peruse the MIT's material and all credit to them. However, I think that many find it difficult to go through such material if at the end of the study one has nothing but inner satisfaction and some knowledge to show for it. In the UK they have the Open University with online University Degrees and Post Graduate study courses in a very wide range of subject matters. See [] Now this is NO Free but is extremely cost effective compared to ANY
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:32PM (#17533906)
    I would love to have MIT's course material available to study, but I know that if my feet aren't held to the fire, I tend to slack off. It would be cool for groups of people to get together to test one another as well on the material. Kind of Open Source Testing for lack of a better set of words. I also know that I get more self confidence and more of a sense of accomplishment when I do well on tests.
    • by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:54PM (#17534094) Homepage Journal
      That would rock, all right... it'd be great to see a popular community site for self-study participants. It'd be more like a natural extension of the OSS developer-support process. Instead of explaining how to use API function X or feature Y, you'd see people answering questions about lecture points and even swapping exams for grading. (The idea of being accountable to someone else, even an anonymous study partner 2,000 miles away, would be a great motivator for many people.)
  • Real Player. Thanks a lot guys!
  • This generous act is intended (in classical MIT style) to make knowledge free, open, and available
    For a university that is "classical for making knowledge free, open and available", they seem to be putting up a lot of barriers by falling into the #2 spot for number of academic patents filled per year 4.htm []
  • As most of us know, knowledge is useless in the "real" world without the piece of paper behind it to back it up. Most employers don't want to do their own testing. I guess if you wanted to study your ass off and challenge a bunch of courses you could save that way.
    • As most of us know, knowledge is useless in the "real" world without the piece of paper behind it to back it up.

      If you need someone's permission or resources to apply knowledge then, sure, you might need paper credentials. The classic example is those looking to be hired for their first job.

      But if you need knowledge and you're already in a position to apply it (e.g. self-employed, already employed with seniority, or a hobbyist/independent/artist/mad-scientist)... then this OpenCourse concept is fantastic.
      • by crossmr ( 957846 )
        Unless you're employer requires proof that you took the course. i.e. a final grade or certificate from the institution you took the course from.

        This really only benefits the self-employed (who need no proof of knowledge) and people who work for employers who will take their word that they've completed required training X.
        • And those who want to know stuff for some reason other than getting paid. Not all of us are in your mental rut.
          • by crossmr ( 957846 )
            You expect to prove that with an ignorant statement? Refer to my original post where I was referring to the usefulness of this in the "real" world. I wasn't even talking about people who just want to learn.
  • by cursorx ( 954743 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @11:23PM (#17534320)
    ...and couldn't care less about copyright law, head over to a private e-learning torrent tracker (just Google...getting invites is harder, but persevere), or connect to the ed2k network. You can easily complement these MIT course outlines with the recommended textbooks, in nice .pdf, ready-to-print format. If you don't find what you need, request it and someone might be able to help you. Or just go to a library.

    I appreciate MIT's initiative, but they should disclose a bit more about these courses than what amounts to, basically, extended syllabi. Lecture notes, from the samples I've examined, are predictably useless. Some of the courses have videos of lectures, and that's a big plus compared to most of what the OpenCourseWare program usually offers. But that's not really enough. It's somewhat useful, but they're only distributing breadcrumbs, pretending they're giving out the whole bread (or half a loaf).
    • Yeah, what's with the draconian invite policies on these sites (eg, BitMe)? They're so fucking worried about "cheaters" that they block out people with unique material to share. It's an utterly pointless power trip.
  • As a physicist, I took a serious interest in the physics and math courses. A few are outstanding, providing lecture notes, worked examples, etc., but the majority have very little material. Frequently just a list of textbooks and a schedule - the sort of thing every college instructor posts for every course anyway.
  • Can you see the synergy? Projects like OLPC deliver computers into the hands of many intelegent young people with no real chance for education. Inovations like MIT Opencourseware provide University level information to them.
    Of course, some will say, "Do we want millions of kids in third-world slums hacking linux??? To which I will say, "Yes, We Do."
  • Cool! I'll go learn me some bio-engineering. Look at all those courses! Alright, I'll dive into "Molecular and Cellular Pathophysiology".

    Shoot, no video lectures. Shoot, no audio lectures. Well, maybe I can pick something up from those extensive lecture notes.

    Oh. The lecture notes are like PowerPoint slides.

    Oh. "Figure removed for copyright reasons."

    OK, well at least it didn't take me more than 10 minutes to learn... that I ain't going to learn much bio-engineering from MIT's current "open" offering

  • One of the courses had this comment in the online syllabus material:

    "You should attend all the classes, no matter what. Nothing you could read will replace what goes on in class."

    (link [])

  • Video Lecture Blog (Score:2, Informative)

    by pkrumins ( 720890 )
    I have been collecting links to video lectures in my blog for a while now, not just MIT but tens of other universities as well. Check it out: Free Science Online Blog []
  • Is not anyone at least a little bit concerned about MIT offering that power out to everyone — including our enemies?

    I'm not at all sure, they will be so overwhelmed with this generosity that they'll stop wanting to hurt us...

    If you ever played "Civilization", the practical value of scientific advances should be immediately obvious. Real life [] examples abound too...

  • Too bad the intro to computer science program requires you to use an inferior text editor:

    When you start Scheme . . . you are interacting with a text-editing system called Edwin, which is a Scheme implementation of the Emacs text editor.

    Now please excuse me while I don my asbestos suit . . .

  • Theres something about being immersed in a sea of people where the average IQ is 140 that is very stimulating (I'm a MIT grad). A few very disciplined people could do this all solo online, but its the multitude of learning channels that works for most MIT students. I'm not sure if its worth 50G a year. It ws relatively cheaper when I attended.

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.