OpenCourseWare program sees rise and makes rapid strides for free education online

Nirav Bhatt is an LLM candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The much deliberated topic of making education easily accessible and available for no cost is indeed coming closer to reality, with a huge increase in the number of students using OpenCourseWare. With institutions like Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, and M.I.T making learning materials easily accessible online, there is a great opportunity for students to reap the benefits of the world of online education.

OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a term applied to course materials in a virtual learning environment created by universities and shared freely with the world via the internet.  An OpenCourseWare site is a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials and is available for use and adaptation under an open licence and it does not typically provide certification or access to instructors.

In an article in the New York Times, the OpenCourseWare network is described as a part of an educational resources movement dedicated to opening and reshaping global access to higher education. This includes releasing educational materials to the public through platforms that include iTunesU, and other sites. OpenCourseWare makes it possible to benefit from some of the content that comes with massive tuition fees at an Ivy League school, without paying that hefty price tag. The idea driving the movement is that information should be freely shared. However, critics would say that someone must pay for these materials, and with the recession squeezing university budgets, open course programs are vulnerable. University officials put it that the students still require interaction with professors and other fellow students, and that doesn’t happen with the OCW.

Also, as every initiative has costs associated with it, so it is the case with OCW. A significant factor is an institution’s reputation, which makes a difference when procuring funds for these projects. For example, to help raise the $3.6 million that it costs annually to operate its Web site, M.I.T. holds semiannual fund-raising campaigns and has recently set up an underwriting program.

To conclude, OCW has enabled realization of the objective of open culture, free education and encouraging the knowledge based society. It has made it easier for an individual to realize his/her dream of learning individually and independently with the help of the course content. This may encourage more educational institutions to promote open culture on the internet for access to education. OCW is the kind of pedagogic resource that can be used and distributed universally, as all sorts of subjects are being covered by this exciting movement.