Committee to explore ideas for future of MIT OpenCourseWare

Sanjay Sarma and Karen Willcox will co-chair a committee to plan for the future of MIT OpenCourseWare, President L. Rafael Reif announced in a letter to faculty July 20.

Sarma, a professor of mechanical engineering and Vice President for Open Learning, leads the Office of Digital Learning; he and Willcox, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, were co-chairs of the Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, which released its final report and recommendations in 2014.

The 12-member committee is charged with reviewing and “refreshing” OCW’s original goals, as well as identifying paths for the future of OCW. In doing so, they will survey other open education providers and technologies, as well as gather feedback from within MIT. Reif asked that the committee “begin work immediately and present [him] with a final report in the fall semester.”

Since launching in 2001, OCW has published course materials for more than 2,300 MIT subjects and attracted over 200 million global visitors, Reif wrote. In 2011, MIT announced the goal of “reach[ing] a billion minds” with open educational resources by 2021.

Several recommendations presented by the Task Force in 2014 involved updating OCW. In particular, the Task Force described how OCW could facilitate “the exploration of modularity” in learning materials.

“OCW materials may, in the medium term, become the building blocks for anyone in the world who wishes to build a customized MOOC,” the report suggested.

“The unbundling of classes... reflects a larger trend in society — a number of other media offerings have become available in modules, whether it is a song from an album, an article in a newspaper, or a chapter from a textbook,” the report said. “Much like a playlist on iTunes, a student could pick and choose the elements of a calculus or a biology course offered across the edX platform to meet his or her needs.”

The report suggested that MITx and OCW “work together to frame and enable such a vision.”

MIT experimented with blended learning in 2014 with summer@future, a program that offered students for-credit experimental summer classes. These experimental classes combined classroom teaching with extensive online components and included a quantum information science class that had exclusively online problem sets and a biology class in which students created their own digital learning tools. Student and professor reviews of these classes were mixed, and the program was not repeated the following summer.

Willcox and another committee member, math professor Haynes Miller, are the faculty directors of another online educational experiment, Crosslinks. Crosslinks uses material from OCW to provide MIT-specific study material for individual topics from MIT classes.

EECS professor Hal Abelson, a member of the new committee, was also on the council which originally proposed the idea for OCW fifteen years ago.