"We see MIT OpenCourseWare as opening a new door to the powerful,
democratizing and transforming power of education."
Charles M. Vest, President MIT, 2002
Last month I was invited to give an interview for Wired magazine about how students and educators in Ukraine use MIT's OpenCourseWare website. I had written enthusiastically to OpenCourseWare's communications manager about how valuable this initiative was and he forwarded my e-mail to the magazine. The journalist for Wired magazine wanted to come to Ukraine and interview me and Ukrainian students to illustrate the potential for the OCW program around the world. With disappointment and regret I had to decline the offer. As far as I knew, nobody in Ukraine was systematically using the OCW materials as a tool for study, teaching and developing education programs. More than being disappointed, I was embarrassed.
A tool is only useful if it's used. When I read the selection in the Vision Project by Jose Ortega y Gasset, "The Mission of the University," I was inspired by its relevance to Ukraine and to this disappointing incident. "The Mission of the University" was written in 1930, a time when Spain was beginning an intellectual renaissance after being isolated from contemporary western culture. Certainly there are parallels between Ortega's time period and that of Ukraine in this decade. So I decided to write about 2 examples of universities which are implementing bold initiatives to transform education on a large scale and about their missions to make their activities meaningful to students and relevant to society.
Without suggesting that the cases I chose are examples for us to copy, I do believe that they can be used as best practices of the powerful process of Vision implementation — that instrument which connects the AS IS case with the desired TO BE condition.
A Strategic Vision of the University
One of the most striking examples of a university Vision which is coming true already today is MIT's OpenCourseWare Project (OCW). MIT is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and OCW is a large-scale, web-based "information initiative" launched in 2001 by the Institute. MIT claims over 56 Nobel Prize winners and is considered to be "the think tank" for advances in many academic and technical research areas. But this initiative is revolutionary in the assumptions it makes about the mission of the university. "Our goal is open knowledge," says Jon Paul Potts, OCW communications manager, "and we're trying to start the trend of sharing knowledge around the world."
Over a 10-year period MIT will post lecture notes, assignments, syllabi, tutorials, video simulations and reading lists from over 2,000 courses on the site. There will be free access to MIT course materials for educators, students, and individual learners around the world. OCW materials began appearing on the Internet in 2002. As of this date 23 MIT departments have posted 60 university courses on the OCW website. The goal is to post 2,000 courses by the year 2007. These course materials outline the instructors' education philosophy, their expectations for students and course requirements. OCW contents include:
- Course Descriptions
- Lecture Notes
- Required Readings
- Related Resources
For example, test pilots began with the Department of Biology and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. Class 24.00 "Problems of Philosophy" includes excellent guidelines for student papers and links to related sites. Class 6.170 "Laboratory in Software Engineering" includes useful Labs, Tools and Projects. Course 14.27 in the Department of Economics, "Industrial Organization I," is "intended to start the process of preparing economics Ph.D. students to conduct thesis research." It would certainly be useful for doctoral students in other areas as well.
These materials have tremendous value. The extensive reading lists in the syllabi may be helpful to Ukrainian students and the assignments and required readings may be interesting to Ukrainian educators as well. With 4 more years until the 2007 deadline I have confidence that the course materials offered by the Sloan School of Management will become more interesting.
I had sadly declined the interview because this excellent tool was almost unknown in Ukraine. Was the problem English language? One of the questions on the OCW users' survey was "Is OCW applicable to other cultures?" "Of course!" I responded. I had dismissed the issue of language as a problem and instead applauded the universal applicability of the OCW design, user-friendliness (I thought) and powerful but elegant architecture. Most of all I was excited about the assumptions behind the OCW initiative as described by MIT faculty chairman Steven Lerman:
- shared intellectual commons in academia and
- fight against the privatization of knowledge.
I had eagerly written to Mr. Potts:
"We are great admirers of OCW's principle of shared intellectual commons in academia. Cultures with a soviet legacy desperately need access to quality information resources. But at the same time they are painfully skeptical. It just seems too good to be true. When I showed some of the OCW materials to a friend here the feedback was, "They probably force the professors to prepare those materials." It's probably just as hard for you to believe that such assumptions still exist, but they do."
Is sharing knowledge really so revolutionary? Probably as revolutionary as sharing anything. We are suspicious of free things. Perhaps there is good historical reason for this in Ukraine. The assumption behind shared intellectual commons in academia is that this will stimulate collaboration among scholars. Are we ready for this?
I had read that when the OCW initiative was first proposed as a commercial venture ("MIT.com"), MIT faculty voted to make it a non-profit project and launched a search for funding. Today OCW is partly financed by 2 foundations and the search continues for resources (see the MIT OCW Development and Publishing Plan).
My own assumption was that everyone would jump at an opportunity which "de-privatizes knowledge." Even MIT's OCW copyright statement "Creative Commons" encourages others to use the materials in many forms for non-commercial purposes. The only requirement is that credit be given to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and to the original author (see ocw.mit.edu/global/terms-of-use). I had to agree that this was a new model for the dissemination of knowledge and does encourage and support collaboration among scholars around the world.
My enthusiasm continued to bombard poor Mr. Potts:
"Fortunately, the mindset is changing. Thanks to initiatives like OCW we are developing a new optimism for positive change. The OCW Project is showing educational and academic communities in transitional economies that they are significant stakeholders in the social change process. In an environment where change has traditionally been something to fear, this perspective engages and energizes."
But I was wrong. Suddenly I was caught red-handed in something that was more than a white lie. I could not introduce a single student in Ukraine who was systematically using these materials. Even worse, there are no visible results in Ukraine's education system at a higher level.
What Drives the Strategy?
In 1999, MIT Provost Robert A. Brown asked the MIT Council on Education Technology to provide strategic guidance on how MIT should position itself in the distance/e-learning environment. The Council recommended the idea of OpenCourseWare which supports MIT's mission:
"To advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship
that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century."
This mission is consistent with MIT's values:
The MIT Council on Educational Technology committed itself "to establishing MIT as a world leader for research and innovation in the use of technology to enhance learning, consistent with the Institute's values."
Clearly, MIT's core values drive also the Institute's efforts in educational technology. These are:
- Research and teaching will continue to be linked and synergistic
- The quality of the MIT community will be preserved and enhanced
- Quality student/faculty interactions will be preserved and enhanced
- MIT is unwilling to compromise on student standards for enrollment in degree programs
- MIT's core advantage is its ability to bring world-class students and faculty together.
In a challenge to graduates at the 136th Commencement address on June 7, 2002, MIT's President Charles M. Vest said:
To "support education worldwide, including innovations in the process of teaching and learning itself" is an ambitious goal. A year later and facing financial constraints, President Vest reminded the audience at a town meeting on campus of MIT's "principles of diversity, openness in education and research, and service to the nation and the world." These continue to drive the strategy even during financial hard times.
Role of University Mission
The OCW Project is consistent with MIT's mission: to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. MIT's founding President William Barton believed that education should be both broad and useful, enabling students to participate in "the humane culture of the community" and to discover and apply knowledge for the benefit of society. He emphasized "learning by doing," combining liberal and professional education, and the value of useful knowledge. These are still today at the foundation of MIT's educational mission.
Clearly one of MIT's goals is transformation of education on a large scale. The Institute has invested in educational innovation and launched over 30 experiments. MIT is:
- rethinking traditional education (from lectures to laptops)
- rethinking relationships with other universities and companies, and
- reaching out across the world.
I think that President Barton's view parallels that of Jose Ortega y Gasset, both in its dynamic interpretation of education — and in education's transformative (and even generative) power. Not only should education be practical but it should also serve to develop the whole person, a "cultured" individual. Culture, according to Ortega, is "the system of ideas by which each historical time period lives." I think that this is much more than a high-tech version of "the Renaissance Man." In the 21st century, MIT's first president "envisioned" an MIT graduate to be greater than himself, to be aware of others, to be an engaged stakeholder. The assumptions behind OCW's "Intellectual Commons" contribute to "the system of ideas by which (this) historical time period lives."
"Intellectual Commons" demonstrate MIT's intellectual and educational leadership. Providing freely available materials also supports "overall university commons" by:
- Committing to integrating educational-technology deeply into on-campus education
- Creating major, shared campus-wide educational resources
- Demonstrating a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age
- Setting an example for other leading educational institutions worldwide
- Contributing to improving the quality and standard of education at all levels — nationally and worldwide.
Strategy Drives the Initiatives
It's easy to get lost in a website. As in a spider web, sometimes the curious visitor gets tangled in the links and can't get out. When I first began to visit the MIT website each time I found a new path to follow. But even as the spider weaves its web to catch its dinner (a fly) it follows an architect's logic. I was caught by the devilish genius of the web's designers when in 2001I accidentally landed in the OCW Press Release. I say "designers" because clearly an extended community was involved in this conspiracy of collaboration.
I continue to discover new avenues. In preparing this article I returned to the website for MIT's Council on Educational Technology (MITCET) and saw how OCW fits in with MIT's university strategy. I also realized that OCW was only 1 of 16 projects in the MITCET portfolio. Strategy drives the MITCET portfolio which reflects MIT's mission and values.
Strategy also inspired the initiatives:
- Innovative Learning Environments
Principle: moving away from large passive lectures towards a variety of innovative learning environments.
Example: Active learning exercises enabled by IT for students in engineering fields.
- Intellectual Commons
Principle: demonstrating intellectual and educational leadership by making materials freely available to strengthen university commons.
- Inter-Institutional Collaboration
Principle: demonstrating new ways to collaborate across traditional university-university and university-campus relationships.
Example: a Singapore-MIT alliance (distance education collaboration among MIT and Singapore universities).
- Extended University Community
Principle: developing and using technology to enhance on-campus education and engage members of the community.
Example: harnessing experiences of alumni into educational experiences of students.
For example, projects in the Intellectual Commons Initiative include:
Another Bold (and Shared) Vision
Business leaders, management gurus, educators and even philosophers are agreeing that a Vision is a critical component of an effective organization. Those who have worked with a Vision, however, are discovering that implementing the Vision is even more difficult than defining it.
Author Mark Lipton in Guiding Growth: How Vision Keeps Companies on Course (HBS Press, 2003) notes that successful organizations are able to manage the gap between the AS-IS case and the desired TO-BE condition. This sounds self-evident. But, according to Lipton, this is the most vulnerable part of organizational growth. "When an organization takes a strong stand on defining what it is, what it believes in, and how it will change the world, some people may leave. For Lipton, an organizational Vision acts like a sieve, it "creates a transparent screening process in which people either find something meaningful in which to invest their energy and commitment or . . . they leave."
As a graduate of the MBA program at California's San Diego State University (SDSU) I look forward to visiting former professors, especially whenever I'm in professional trouble. In most cases I get positive reinforcement instead of the usual negative feedback from the real world of management consulting. Most university professors in the USA welcome the attention of former students and are willing to offer some free advice. I suspect that there's some curiosity on their part as well, "So what is she doing now?" or "Is she a millionaire yet?"
But I'm always encouraged by the reliable kindness of Dr. Milton Chen, my former professor of Operations Management, student of Edwards Deming, Baldrige Prize evaluator and Quality Guru. It was Professor Chen who presented me with a copy of Eliyahu M. Goldratt's Critical Chain with his dry comment, "It's supposed to be a business novel." This "new-age" novel gives the perspective of the university as a business organization with its conflicts of interests among stakeholders: professors, MBA students, working professionals, gurus, consultants, business owners and even "oligarch-type" members of the business community. This is a familiar scene.
Having already graduated, and with my MBA diploma somewhere in a closet, I wickedly looked forward to reading about the "values disconnect" between academics and the real business environment. But on the way home from campus I stopped by the Entrepreneurial Management Center (EMC) which is considered to be a model of effective stakeholder engagement in business and business education… and a hotbed for producing entrepreneurs! Established in 1986 and privately funded (mostly by the business community), the EMC links SDSU's College of Business with local leaders through strategic initiatives that promote the entrepreneurial process through experiential learning. At the same time the EMC provides the regional community with tools and skills for venture growth and creation.
SDSU is not a large university and it would be hard to compare it with MIT. Still, SUCCESS magazine ranked SDSU's MBA program 10th nationally among Business Schools for Entrepreneurs in February 2001. The program was also listed 20th in the nation by US News & World Report in May 2002. EMC's founding chairman Ron Fowler said "The most important aspect is providing students with exposure to the community. It combines their academic learning experience with the realities of the business world."
Graduate students specializing in entrepreneurship can choose classes designed for new business creation and development. The curriculum includes entrepreneurship, managing the growing firm, strategic management of technology and innovation, business plan development, financing the emerging enterprise, and product innovation management. The EMC also hosts an annual business plan competition the "Venture Challenge" with a $15,000 prize. MIT can be proud of its 50K Entrepreneurship Competition and is considered to be the nation's premier business plan competition (web.mit.edu/news).
Another Community of Learners
Founded in 1897, San Diego State University offers bachelor's degrees in 78 areas, master's degrees in 61 areas and doctorates in 13. It can't boast any Nobel Laureates. There are more than 34,000 students. SDSU's home page gives a history of the university's mission development process. It includes the following definition of who they are:
"San Diego State University is a community of learners committed to academic excellence, dedicated to educating our students for positions of responsibility and leadership in the 21st century, focused on addressing the challenges and opportunities of San Diego and California, confident that, if we will provide service to this fast-changing region and its people, we will emerge as a national and international leader in higher education."
San Diego State University's aspirations are to become a leading university community. The university community identified 5 challenges to meeting these aspirations. This statement describes their strategy and initiatives for doing so:
"To prepare our students for the 21st century and to fulfill our obligation to the communities we serve we must:
- Enhance San Diego State's commitment to academic excellence expressed through superior teaching, research, creative activity, and public service.
- Nurture a learning-centered university that supports the growth and development of the whole person.
- Create a community proud of its diversity and committed to furthering social justice on and off campus.
- Promote the growth, development, and wise use of our precious human and fiscal resources.
- Create a genuinely global university."
"The initiatives will enhance the opportunities for students to become better prepared to lead productive lives professionally and personally and will assist faculty in preparing their students for the demands of the 21st century. Taken as a whole, the initiatives will produce more effective graduates who will enhance the reputation of the institution, which in turn will draw students, faculty, and staff of the highest quality to San Diego State University."
More than 10 years after graduating I looked at the SDSU web site with new appreciation. Perhaps this visionary letter from SDSU's president inspired the students and faculty to begin their search:
September 29, 1998
Imagine with me, if you will, San Diego State in 2007. It is widely known as one of the premier universities on the Pacific Rim for its academic excellence, its outstanding teaching, its extensive research, and its valuable community contributions.
San Diego State's hallmark will be an environment of fairness and respect, where students, faculty, and staff learn from each other and benefit personally and institutionally from our rich diversity of people and ideas.
SDSU will be known for offering students extensive opportunities for building bridges between their learning on campus and the laboratories, offices, and schools beyond their classrooms. We will be deeply involved in community issues, whether they be local or national or global.
We will be known as San Diego's truly international crossroads, where many languages, many cultures, and many political ideas meet and enrich the experiences of all of us as we take aggressive leadership in our global society.
That is the vision of SDSU's future that you charted in the Shared Vision process through which we clarified our goals and our priorities for San Diego State.
Now, after soliciting and reviewing additional comments and suggestions from the community campus, I am pleased to make available the final copy of the Shared Vision report. The plan contains input and reflects comments and suggestions from faculty, staff, and students as well as the University Senate, alumni, parents, community members, and friends.
We will prepare a report to the university community next September, and each year thereafter, sharing the record of progress toward our goals.
This then is our roadmap for 1998-99. We invite all to join us on our journey.
Stephen L. Weber
These reports are available on the SDSU homepage.
Learning to Learn
MIT's OCW is certainly not a typical case, but it is possibly a best practice. San Diego State University doesn't have an OCW. The university is located in a different part of the country and serves a different student audience. It is more typical of universities in the United States and possibly a more realistic benchmark for others. But both educational institutions can be proud of sharing some important visionary elements, values and an orientation for developing a person "greater than oneself." And a tool is only useful if we use it.
When I completed the evaluation survey for the OpenCourseWare I wrote that this initiative allows us to benchmark 2 things:
1) our own teaching performance and
2) the level and performance of our students and clients.
For example, educators can compare their own course contents and structures to those on the OCW and use the OCW as a model of best practices. We can assume that we are benchmarking against an industry leader in education. Second, the OCW materials tell us about MIT students as clients of educational programs. This information can contribute to developing teaching materials which are appropriate for Ukraine's context and which can better effect change in educational approaches here. We can also assume that OCW reflects state-of-the-art themes, trends, and resources in education.
OCW materials are especially useful for planning course outlines, identifying class objectives and focusing the teaching approach. The supplementary readings provide materials and bibliographies which complement the class topics.
Regarding potential language, cultural or contextual difficulties that educators may encounter if they try to adapt MIT materials, I don't believe there are limits to usefulness. Certainly there are language differences and cultural preferences for certain kinds of materials. Many cultures do not acknowledge the interactive approach in the classroom. Many learning environments have traditionally been passive (lecture style) without engaging students. Some OCW materials include "thought questions" and assignments for students which encourage creative thinking but not necessarily a "correct" answer. These thought questions are an especially important tool in learning environments which have historically been focused on the teacher. OCW includes other tools which shift the responsibility of learning onto the student and engage the student in the educational process. These are valuable models for all learning environments.
Conclusion: Vision is Good — Shared Vision is Better
It was hard to write a conclusion without making a generalized statement based on my own experience. I still don't know what SHOULD be the Mission of the University or what SHOULD be the modern university's institutional role in disseminating and preserving its educational materials. But I think that these 2 examples are evidence that universities are becoming agents of growth, development and positive social change. At the same time, their efforts are the results of engagement by many stakeholders and include private funding. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing and together both are doing fairly well. It seems that, in these cases at least, it pays to cooperate. Everybody wins — students, the academic community, business, consumers and even management consultants! These 2 universities are competing effectively on their levels of cooperation!
It seems to me that the university's institutional role should certainly take advantage of and complement the technology and communication networks already available on a global scale. What is called today the "privatization of knowledge" used to be called "information hoarding" when I was a student at SDSU. But the genie has already been let out of the bottle and belongs to everybody now.
- All quotations related to the OpenCourseWare and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, charts and graphics are taken from the websites www.mit.edu and www.ocw.mit.edu and related links.
- All quotations related to San Diego State University and the Entrepreneurial Management Center are taken from the website www.sdsu.edu and related links.
- Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) wrote in Spanish but many of his works have been translated into English and other languages (www.ortegaygasset.edu, www.piedraverde.com/ortega/, www.historyguide.org/europe/gasset.html). The Spanish essayist and philosopher was born in Madrid. He was educated at a Jesuit college and the University of Madrid, where he received his doctorate in philosophy in 1904. Ortega spent the next five years at German universities in Berlin and Leipzig and at the University of Marburg. Appointed professor of metaphysics at the University of Madrid in 1910, he taught there until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war in 1936. He was also active as a journalist and as a politician. In 1923 he founded the Revista de occidente, a review of books that was instrumental in bringing Spain in touch with Western, and specifically German thought. Ortega's work as editor and publisher helped end Spain's isolation from contemporary western culture.
Ortega led the republican intellectual opposition under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1936) and he played a role in the overthrow of King Alfonso XIII in 1931. Elected deputy for the province of Leуn in the constituent assembly of the second Spanish republic, he was the leader of a parliamentary group of intellectuals know as La AgrupaciCn al servicio de la republica ("In the service of the republic") and was named civil governor of Madrid. Such a commitment obliged him to leave Spain at the outbreak of the Civil War and he spent years of exile in Argentina and Europe. He settled in Portugal in 1945 and began to make visits to Spain. In 1948 he returned to Madrid and founded the Institute of Humanities at which he lectured.
Ortega was a prolific writer and the head of the most productive school of thinkers Spain had known for more than three centuries. He helped disprove a traditional argument against philosophy that it was "somehow un-Spanish, and therefore dangerous." His influential work on social theory, The Revolt of the Masses, was first published in 1930.
MIT OCW Development and Publishing Plan
AY2003-04 through AY2004-05
AY2005-06 through AY2006-07
|MIT OCW scope
- Pilot version
- Representative sample courses from all five MIT
- Representative formats: lecture notes, video lectures,
simulations, lab courses, more
- Production version
- Hundreds of courses
- One or more complete curriculum tracks
- Enhanced search via metadata tags
- Near-full coverage of MIT curriculum (~2,000 courses)
- Regular update and refresh of all course materials
|Content collection and publication processes
- Handcrafted/custom built Web sites
- Experimentation with:
- content harvesting from existing MIT sources
- copyright clearance process
- Metadata strategy
- More uniform/more automated processes based on content
- Metadata tagging implementation
- Production-level publishing operation
- Temporary approach based on:
- standalone course sites
- manual coding
- Implementation of longer term scalable infrastructure
- Content mgmt tools
- Integration with related MIT learning management
- Full-featured content management and publication
- Staffing/team building
- Many outsourced functions
- Stable organization
- Balance internal staff vs. outside service providers
- Steady state structure
- More distributed responsibility vis-а-vis staff
in MIT academic departments
- Basic usage statistics
- Usability test data
- User profile data
- Information on modes and methods of use
|Impact and benefits
- Introduction to concept and character of MIT OCW
- Improvement in quality for some MIT course materials
- Viable resource for adoption of courses/ curricula
- New service for MIT faculty in facilitation of course
- Dissemination of accumulated knowledge on best pedagogical
practices based on user feedback
- Benchmark for curriculum content
- Model for sharing courseware at other institutions
- Deeper, richer content and more consistent features,
look and feel among courses
- Permanent archive of course materials
Pilot site released