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OpenCourseWare 2.0

Via C|NET, MIT has rolled out the second phase of its OpenCourseWare initiative. Last year, OCW offered a few dozen courses; now it's up to 500.

I can't help but be impressed by what MIT is doing. At the same time, going through the courses, I can't help but think that it's time for the information-wants-to-be-free revolution to extend to textbooks -- just as is already happening with science journals. If textbook content were developed using open source techniques, then online course offerings such as MIT's could be complete, instead of relying on textbook content as they do today. How can someone in a Third World country use OpenCourseWare if the textbook for a single course represents their gross household income for a month or more?

I understand why the textbook process existed as it did in the past. High-quality books containing well-written, peer-reviewed text were expensive to produce, and a profit motive had to exist to make this possible. But many students today would rather have their content online, printing only what they need, and peer review is simple via the Internet. Moreover, digital content can be updated far more frequently than can physical books. In other words, collaborative writing and reviewing processes can give us better, more useful educational materials than is possible with today's textbook publishing model.


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The one thing about it that annoys me is the fact I can't download the videos. I would like to take Linear Algebra offline so I can be laying in a park and learning.

They are paying/getting bandwidth donated by Akamai, so the number of bits they have to transfer to me is the same.

I would even *pay* for a DVD with all the course material on it :-)

MIT has some textbooks online for free, most notably Calculus I. However, in reviewing the book, I felt it could benefit from some editing and proper page layout. I still prefer a palpable book.

MIT OpenCourseWare is still wonderful, even if you have to pay $100 for a *worthwhile* textbook.

my site

What is also discouraging is that some reading and class materials aren't available at all to online learners. In 6.002 Circuits and Electronics the "textbook" hasn't been published yet -- each chapter is printout that is _only_ handed out to meatspace students.

To OCW's credit, the FAQ discusses the problem: "The course-pack materials that accompany most MIT courses often contain proprietary information and copyrighted materials that MIT Faculty only use in their classroom interactions with MIT students. These materials are not available, nor will they be in the future, to MIT OCW users."

While there are many courses that are not torpedoed by IP concerns, the ones where essential material is simply not available should be removed from the list of courses. They are not OpenCourseWare but excersizes in dashed hopes.

[Can you tell I'm really bummed that the first course of my self-taught EE education isn't viable online?]

-- Lee

That's a bummer about 6.002. But you could try 6.012 or 6.071, both of which have actual, palpable textbooks and good notes. To avoid trying a class with no book, visit my free site, MIT4Free--OpenCourseWare Community.

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