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M.I.T. Course Materials Free Over Web

Produced by
The New York Times
April 9, 2001

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- At a time when online knowledge can be a valuable commodity, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to offer nearly all its course materials on the Internet for free.

The $100 million project aims to make information from MIT's 2,000 courses accessible to everyone within 10 years. The Web site will include lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists and assignments.

Visitors to the site will not earn college credit.

The plan counters a trend toward the ``privatization of knowledge,'' where ideas are owned by companies or institutions, said professor Steven Lerman, chairman of the MIT faculty.

The school is still considering ways to use the Internet to generate revenue, such as selling research updates to alumni, said MIT President Charles Vest. But this venture is essentially altruistic, he said.

``It expresses our belief in the way education can be advanced by constantly widening access to knowledge and inspiring participation,'' he said.

Other universities offer course materials on the Internet, but the information is often available only to students, and no school has proposed offering all of its course materials online.

The project is voluntary, and some professors may decide not to participate, said Hal Abelson, a computer science professor involved in the project.

The Web site will fall short of the student experience at MIT, where tuition costs about $26,000 a year. The site will contain just the ``raw materials'' of the courses, not the teaching, Abelson said.

Students were receptive to idea of the school giving away the knowledge they pay for.

``There's no sense in covering it up,'' said Manuel Roth, 27, a graduate student. ``If it's general stuff about math and physics, why not?''

The project could provide course models for colleges around the country and help developing countries improve their higher education systems, Vest said. The school's reputation also gets a boost, he said.

Vest said he envisions the funding coming from private, philanthropic sources.

Andy Rosenfield, chief executive of the Internet education company, said MIT's move will not increase competition with services such as UNext, but will instead stimulate interest in the courses they offer.

As for other schools following suit, Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at Claremont Graduate University in California who researches high tech in higher education, said the questions of funding, planning and faculty involvement that MIT has already addressed are major hurdles.

``The MIT initiative will be watched with varying degrees of public and private envy,'' he said. ``Envy and angst.''

(c) Copyright: The New York Times

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