Monday, November 22, 2004

Suspicions on MIT OCW




Its been a while since I've seen something new come from MIT on the free for education wagon, and I'm just getting better from 4 days of pretty hard core sickness - so I'm obviously keen to get back in here and comment.

A seed was planted in me about a month ago, after reading the one and only criticism I could find on MIT's OpenCourseWare. It suggested that MIT's courseware was mostly not so open at all - but rather promoting the sale of text books and other supportive materials...

Now, Thanks to MIT's Phillip Long presentation to the Sydney Institute I've been looking at some new teaching learning software that MIT are making available for free. But after reading about each of them, the only link I can find to obtaining a version of the software to try out is by sending an email...

Then that hard learned pessimisms about institutions and people who get paid too much started to leach back into me, as a feeling that the MIT saint wasn't as saintly as they like to make out. Perhaps I am too paranoid, too cynical - but it does strike me as strange that not a single Institution in Australia spouts such social and ethical ideology either in promo or in face value practice like MIT. But that could be just because Australian institutions aren't yet wised up to the promotional gains, and far reaching market penetration one can archive through making your products superficially free.

Take, MS Media Player, Internet Explorer, Flash Player, Apple Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat Reader, tolerance of software piracy, and many more softwares that have been made available freely, for the simple and heady idea of obtaining market penetration and dominating it with your designs, outlook and way of doing things.

Now I'm not saying that MIT are doing this... but there are some interesting lessons to be learnt from the marketing initiatives of the software giants. Perhaps MIT are trying to balance between the social and ethical contribution they promote, and the marketing advantage they do not. Or perhaps there is no marketing scheme behind MIT OCW. But if there is, I think its largely a possitive one, so long as users don't let themselves get locked in to an MIT view on things and are still willing and able to choose and use other OCW and tools.

6 comments:

Michael said...

Just had a quick look at MIT's computer related courses... gee this stuff's growing fast!! Last time I checked MIT OCW only had 500 courses up, now it's 900!

This course on computer programming includes an online version of the textbook...(courtesy of MIT press) and MIT do seem to be trying to get the recorded lectures up and available too (there are many video lectures already available). I reckon it depends more on the author of the texts (as to whether the texts are freely available online) or, on the other hand, the availability of decent open material.

Realistically, I don't think we can expect to have every course at MIT using freely available textbooks until the freely available textbooks are the best textbooks around (the books at WikiBooks are still looking a little scarce). Remember, MIT is using this same opencourse-ware for their prestigeous courses too.

Leigh Blackall said...

G'day Michael,

Now I think I may have been wrong to draw a dark cloud over MIT - It is just so great to see such a huge university going free and open, its almost too good to be true. In a way, they are so good about it they risk wearing hearts on sleeves - leaving themselves open to whitewashing by people more sinister than me.
I mean, it fantastic that MIT's OCW is growing like it is, and that more and more people are aware of it - but what we really need is for all or some of Australian TAFEs and Universities to follow suite. And without a solid business argument I just don't think they'll do it. And MIT are not forth coming with any business arguments...
I'm sounding like a money hungry pig - I'm not. I'd love it to be true that MIT is one of many US groups who see the light of social welfare and education... maybe I will believe it soon. But the mission is to see many more institutions do the same.

sunshine said...

hello my Prince...

sunshine said...

showing Sarah and Chris your site...

Leigh Blackall said...

Bubs, you still there? I'm getting in the car soon. Its very very cold up here today.
Love you

Sean said...

Sheesh! Get a room you guys! You seem to be forgetting this is a public forum! :-)