When MIT first announced the OpenCourseWare (OCW) project in the spring of 2001, many people hoped similar projects would proliferate, allowing instructors in less-developed countries to access timely materials to support their teaching—materials that would otherwise never be available to them. This is happening, as part of a quickly spreading, more general zeitgeist. Worldwide movements like open source software exemplify this concept. Many issues remain to be explored, but a number of serendipitous events in the past few years have resulted in an unprecedented sharing of academic resources over the Internet.
A major reason for sharing resources created for local communities is individuals’ desire to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Other reasons relate to institutional goals and benefits. In a traditional campus setting, for example, few faculty members see their colleagues’ syllabi, much less their teaching materials. Thanks to the OCW initiative, faculty members from different schools at MIT are realizing the overlap in the topics they cover. By just reviewing the OCW content from their desktops, they can see how someone in a different discipline approaches the same material. This capability makes for a richer experience for students and professors and is generating new, cross-departmental collaborations. Another benefit of opening up course materials comes when more people around the world see the quality of the academic culture on that campus. They can only join that campus culture by applying for admission to the college or university. This openness raises the general awareness of the institution’s academic offerings and stature around the world.