Community Discussion on Open Sharing and OpenCourseWare

author: William G. Bowen, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
published: May 25, 2012,   recorded: October 2004,   views: 2140

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Who could have guessed that a Florentine omelet played a role in the origins of the OpenCourseWare initiative? A breakfast meeting in a New York “greasy spoon” was one of the seminal moments shaping OCW, according to William G. Bowen, who dined with Charles Vest and discussed Mellon Foundation support for the initiative. Bowen praises Vest and others for their passion and determination to bring MIT’s knowledge to the world --for free. Bowen cites data showing that while MIT might benefit from Mellon funding, “the greatest benefits are received by those with the least resources”—individuals and institutions around the world who take advantage of MIT’s web course publications. He also lauds Vest for pursuing issues of equity in higher education. “Higher education isn’t about exploiting a monopoly position to maximize profits. It’s about husbanding scarce resources to serve societal goals in the most effective way possible.”

Vest says OCW “in this age of cynicism has shown the power of a really wonderful idea,” one that is just now coming to fruition. Provost Robert Brown describes “the heady days of ’98 when universities were running around with business models in their heads of all the money to be made in the internet on content and education.” MIT formed a faculty committee to study the matter, stalling just long enough to see the bubble pop—and then came up with its mission-based, not-for-profit initiative. Brown says OCW has become a unique “snapshot… of the integration of education and research on this campus…a profound educational tool in the history of university education.”

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