WITH OCW is good for the self-taught

Open systems for an open university

In computer software and in art and culture, open, freely accessible systems have long been established, and this movement is also gaining momentum in the field of higher education. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is a pioneer. Ten years ago it put the first courses online, free of charge, without registration and accessible to all Internet users. Other elite universities reacted skeptically to puzzled. The vision behind it: Knowledge as a public good from which everyone can benefit, should also be freely accessible to everyone.

Today, around 2000 courses, seminars and lectures from a wide variety of subjects at MIT are available as Open Courseware (OCW). Well-known universities around the world followed MIT. The Open Courseware Consortium (OCC), founded in 2005, now has around 200 universities, including Tsinghua University in China, the University of California Berkeley and the Dutch Delft University of Technology. In total, more than 13,000 courses were made publicly available.

The only Austrian member in this consortium is the Alpen-Adria-Universit├Ąt in Klagenfurt. The offer is currently still modest. Apart from the German as a foreign language course, no other offer is available at the moment, but that is due to the relaunch of the university website, apologizes Thomas Pfeffer, OCW project manager at the Alpen-Adria-Universit├Ąt. Nonetheless, Europe is oversleeping this development a little, he says. "But that also has to do with the organization of the universities. The support that teachers receive is very little here," criticizes Pfeffer. In order to be able to offer a course as open courseware, a new and expanded design of the content is required. "So far, only a few materials have been produced by the lecturers for their courses. For OCW, however, comprehensive presentations are required that can also be read and understood outside of the course," explains Pfeffer.

Open Courseware has nothing to do with distance learning and is not a substitute for conventional teaching and course offers. There is no interaction with the speakers, and there are no certificates for completing the courses. The materials can be reused provided the source is named.

The offer is used by autodidacts, teachers and students. MIT also offers the most precise analysis of users. The site counts around one million visits every month. Around 43 percent are self-taught who would like to acquire a large amount of knowledge outside of their professional context. In second place, with 42 percent, are students who want to improve their personal knowledge. Nine percent of the users are themselves teachers who want to continue their education and integrate the offer into their courses. The majority comes from the USA, followed by Southeast Asia and Europe.

Visits from all over the world

Since it was launched ten years ago, people from 215 countries have visited the MIT website. After the 100 million visitors in recent years, the ambitious goal for the next decade is to reach a billion people with the offer. In Yale, the Open Yale website, which has been in existence since 2007, is now one of the most visited sites at the university, with visitors from 191 countries. Teachers from all over the world would use the content of the Open Yale Courses. To make the access to the courses even easier, the courses are also available on Youtube and iTunes.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the ten largest foundations in the USA, is considered to be a major sponsor of these offers. The foundation, established in 1966 by William Hewlett, co-founder of HP, has set itself the goal of promoting high-quality academic courses around the world. Many of the OCW projects have been and are financially supported by this foundation. (Gudrun Ostermann, DER STANDARD, print edition, October 29/30, 2011)