This post is not about programming, so I hope all of you non-programmers won’t give up on it after reading the first paragraph or two.
Last week I blogged about my Open Source project, xajax. As open source projects like Linux, the Mozilla Firefox browser, and the OpenOffice.org Office Suite have gained more prominence, the idea of freely available information and tools has been slowly creeping into other parts of our society.
Blogs are an interesting and seemingly successful part of the movement toward “openness.” The Wikipedia is another interesting development. Both are somewhat controversial.
I want to draw your attention to another developing part of the movement that you may not be aware of yet: OpenCourseWare.
In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced its OpenCourseWare initiative in which it intends make the course materials that are used in teaching almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects at MIT available on the Web, free of charge, to anyone, anywhere in the world.
The project now has the materials from over 900 classes available. Most of them include lecture notes, tests, and homework problems–often including the solutions. Some courses also include interactive demonstrations, streaming video lectures, or even complete textbooks written by MIT professors. The project aims to have all of the course materials at MIT freely available online by the end of 2007.
Since its inception, other universities have joined the OpenCourseWare initiative including Johns Hopkins, Utah State University, Foothill-De Anza Community College, University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Tufts.
This is an exciting development. While you will not receive university credit for studying any of these materials, the information is open to anyone with access to the Internet who wants to learn.
LDS Member and USU professor, David Wiley, has been working with MIT to develop open source software to provide what he calls “Open Learning Support” to compliment the open courses. The idea is that if you provide the right kind of interaction tools, groups of people interested in the same subjects will self organize and help each other learn as kind of decentralized classes. Brother Wiley maintains the OpenContent.org to promote the OpenCourseWare concept and he has also recently created an online resource for searching for Open Courses from various universities. You can check out Brother Wiley’s blog.
It will be interesting to see if BYU eventually joins the initiative. BYU already offers some excellent free, web-based courses, but I haven’t yet seen an indication that it will release all of its class materials as OpenCourseWare.
The establishment of the wonderful Perpetual Education Fund demonstrates the Lord’s interest in educating the saints world wide. It is a wonderful program that makes me very excited about the future. I have reason to believe that the PEF is just a step in a long term plan to educate the saints.
I expect that, in the not so distant future, the Church will begin to extend a university level education, through BYU, to its members in all nations through the use of missionaries and Internet based classes. Someday we may very well see stake centers throughout the world become hubs in a vast, interconnected education system. Just as they can now do genealogical research, faithful latter-day saints of all means will be able to attend classes and attend lectures and lessons by professors and experts in all kinds of fields through web-enabled learning centers in stake centers everywhere, directed and helped locally by “education” missionaries.
While some cynics mock BYU’s church slant, it is the fact that BYU is inextricably intertwined with the Church that makes this kind of vast program even conceivable. We already have the facilities and a great deal of infrastructure to build upon. Could any other university even attempt such a program?
I am sure that creating such a system will require developing new approaches to education. It is good to see people like brother Wiley develop new concepts of education. It is an opportunity for those involved to seek revelation from the Lord and bless the the saints and the entire world.