[EAS]MIT's Academic Cathedral

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Apr 4 19:29:01 EDT 2001

Subject:   MIT's Academic Cathedral

Dear Colleagues -

Those of us who heard the earlier news of MIT devoting $100m to
putting its courses on the Web, and were somewhat dismissive of the
worth of such an investment, didn't realize how far-reaching MIT's
intent is. Until today's New York Times front-page story, that is.
(See below)

This now is an academic gauntlet of major proportions and makes fully
explicit MIT's intended normative role in the future of engineering
education. It may well become the education equivalent of Bell Labs's
choice to teach for free the making of the transistor, after its
invention there in 1947. 

Keep in mind what I have so often said in these mailings--the
classroom as a conduit of science and technology 'facts' is fast
dying. The place for that material is in the text books and on the
Web, with textbook publishers themselves already contributing to Web
content and seeing it as their future. The role of the classroom is to
_interpret and discuss_ the material, the tradeoffs in actual
engineering situations, to give the students an opportunity to see how
the instructor personally thinks. In a good course the students 'learn
the instructor' as much as the material. Our attitude toward our
students had best be experienced, involved, interesting and personally

  --Peter Kindlmann

(from NewsScan Daily,  4 April 2001)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has committed up to $100
million  for a 10-year project to create public Web sites that offer,
without  charge, learning materials used in almost all of its 2,000
courses. The  materials will include lecture notes, problem sets,
syllabuses, exams,  simulations, and video lectures. Called
OpenCourseWare, the program is not intended for "audit" purposes and
not as a means for students to earn  college credits. Computer science
professor Hal Abelson explained: "In the  Middle Ages people built
cathedrals, where the whole town would get together and make a thing
that's greater than any individual person could do and the society
would kind of revel in that. We don't do that as much  anymore, but in
a sense this is kind of like building a cathedral." MIT  President
Charles M. Vest is confident that the new program will in no way 
detract from the value received by residential students who are paying
tuition of $26,000 for the on-campus experience of working directly
with  faculty and other students." I don't think we are giving away
the direct  value, by any means, that we give to students. But I think
we will help  other institutions around the world... I also suspect in
this country and  throughout the world, a lot of really bright,
precocious high school  students will find this a great playground."
(New York Times 4 Apr 2001)

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