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Interview with Anne Margulies, executive director of MIT Open Course Ware(1)
2007-03-28 11:16:00 [ Big Normal Small ]  Zong Xing   Comment
  
  An act of intellectual philanthropy, not a profit-making enterprise----Interview with Anne Margulies, executive director of MIT Open Course Ware

  
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  About MIT Open Course Ware (OCW),
  MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) makes MIT course materials, which are used in the teaching of almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects, available on the internet free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world. MIT OCW advances technology-enhanced education at MIT, and serves as a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet era. This initiative continues the tradition at MIT, and in American higher education, of open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy, and modes of thought, and will help lead to fundamental changes in the way colleges and universities utilize the web as vehicle for education.

  Interview

  Xing Zong: Ms. Margulies, you described open course ware as a bold initiative; nothing like this has ever been done before at this scale. Could you please be more specific?

  Margulies: When OCW was conceived in 2000, many of other institutions were trying to figure out how to profit from the Internet. A large number of distance learning programs (most of which are now closed) were launched at the time. MIT’s OCW project went counter to the trend of privatizing and commercializing educational materials, and recognized the tremendous benefit that might arise from simply making these materials freely accessible.

  Xing Zong: Why MIT OCW adopts a model that involved no fees as opposed to starting a way that students could earn MIT credits online with a fee structure?

  Margulies: MIT is a residential institution, and the costs of converting the residential materials we create to a distance learning format that would support a fee-based system were prohibitive. MIT’s materials were originally made available through OCW with the intention of supporting other instructors in creating their own course materials. After we made the materials available, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of people able to study independently using the materials; they currently represent about half of our users. Regardless, the project was proposed as and remains an act of intellectual philanthropy, not a profit-making enterprise.

  Xing Zong: The challenge of your job is to build and staff the OCW organization to be efficient enough to scale, and to make the organization responsive to faculty needs by minimizing the effort required to participate. How do you accomplish this ambitious goal since you took the helm?

  Margulies: We have a staff of 9 department liaisons, most of whom have just graduated from an MIT program. Their offices are in the departments they serve, and they know the faculty and programs very well. These department liaisons are our key to keeping the workload for the faculty low, and to communicating the vision of OCW to prospective faculty participants. (OCW is voluntary for all faculty, and so far more than 80% have chosen to participate.) This imbedded team is one of the biggest keys to our success.

  Xing Zong: Let’s talk about OCW, who will celebrate its 6th anniversary soon. Statistics are always convincing. Does OCW track the number the users or geographic distribution of the users?

  Margulies: Absolutely. We currently receive around 1.5 million visits per month, originating from every country and region in the world, including Antarctica. About 80% of our visits come from North America, East Asia and Western Europe combined. The US generates the most traffic of any single country, and China, India, Canada and South Korea always follow closely (each producing approximately 50,000-70,000 visits each month.)
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