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MIT Building Free Open Source Online Course Platform

The institution that led the call for freely available lectures, videos, and exams created by its instructors and shared with the world will now do the same with online learning. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which opened up OpenCourseWare (OCW) in 2002, recently announced plans to develop the temporarily named MITx, a program to share some MIT courses freely through an online interactive learning platform. MIT said it expects the new initiative, which is expected to launch in spring 2012, eventually to host "a virtual community of millions of learners around the world."

According to the school, the learning platform will be used among its own students and be made available to other schools--both higher ed and K-12. The program will include online laboratories, course notes made available through OCW, online tutors, crowd-sourced grading of programs, automatic transcription, and student-to-student communication. Non-MIT people who demonstrate mastery of subjects will be able to earn a certificate of completion from MIT.

Once the infrastructure for the new endeavor has evolved into a stable state, MIT will release the code for the platform to enable others to improve and enhance it. Development of the platform is being led by Anant Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). "An open infrastructure will facilitate research on learning technologies and also enable learning content to be easily portable to other educational platforms that will develop. In this way the infrastructure will improve continuously as it is used and adapted."

The MITx work is being directed by MIT Provost Rafael Reif, as part of an on-going institution-wide research project that seeks to better understand online teaching and learning.

"Students worldwide are increasingly supplementing their classroom education with a variety of online tools," Reif said. "Many members of the MIT faculty have been experimenting with integrating online tools into the campus education. We will facilitate those efforts, many of which will lead to novel learning technologies that offer the best possible online educational experience to non-residential learners. Both parts of this new initiative are extremely important to the future of high-quality, affordable, accessible education."

OCW, which now hosts almost 2,100 MIT courses, sparked the new effort. "OpenCourseWare's great success signals high demand for MIT's course content and propels us to advance beyond making content available," said MIT President Susan Hockfield. "MIT now aspires to develop new approaches to online teaching."

The school affirmed its commitment to continue sharing course materials through OCW free of charge.

According to a frequently-asked questions document online, earning a credential through MITx's certification program won't be the same as obtaining an MIT degree. As the FAQ lays out, the school "awards MIT degrees only to those admitted to MIT through a highly selective admissions process."

The credential will involve fees and will be managed by a non-profit body within MIT. "The aim," stated the FAQ, "is to make credentialing highly affordable." It also emphasized that the credential will carry a name distinct from MIT's "to avoid confusion." MITx is a temporary name for the initiative. Funds generated through the credentialing process will be plowed back into MIT's open learning work.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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