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Open courseware as educational aid: this really does compute: millions of enthusiasts click on accredited links for free enlightenment from schools around the world.

The visionaries behind open courseware surely didn't have the motto of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi in mind when developing the concept of posting content from higher education classes on the Web for any and all surfers to reference for free. But these trailblazers certainly could have declared: "Let the love of learning rule humanity."


Democratic and utilitarian, open courseware applies the idea of learning for its own sake to the digital age. Inspired to a degree by the open-source software innovation, open courseware makes class syllabi, lecture notes, video presentations, podcasts, assignments, exams and related material available online for educators, students and anyone else interested in the information at no cost to them. In less than a decade since being formulated, the increasingly popular movement has turned virtual learning into much more than a vicarious pursuit:

* More than 40 million people have accessed free open courseware from upwards of 1,800 courses from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first university in the world to offer the opportunity (in 2001), according to an article in The Wall Street Journal on March 28, 2008. Some 49% of surfers have been self-learners, 33% students, and 16%) educators.

* Open courseware variations have spread throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

* Approximately 8,600 courses spanning the disciplines can be perused on the Web through the OpenCourse Ware Consortium (, an association of more than 200 accredited colleges and universities, and affiliated organizations, worldwide that commit to publishing for general online consumption at least 10 courses apiece.

Numerous leading schools in Japan, Spain, Taiwan and other countries join nearly two dozen in the U.S., including several campuses with Phi Kappa Phi chapters and other noteworthy liberal arts and state schools, plus more institutions far and wide, as active participants in this illuminating revolution. The most recent report from consortium members shows that their courses received 5.25 million hits, conservatively, in the first quarter of 2009 alone. As further testament to how far-reaching this movement is, the consortium counts students from every continent.


Even a small sampling of free course material from participating schools is impressive:

* Biochemical engineering from Utah State University

* Mandarin Chinese from University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

* Physics from Tufts University

* Photography from Massachusetts Institute of Technology

* Introduction to tourism from University of Southern Queensland, Australia

* Public health from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

* Greek mythology from University of Washington

* Comparing stars (astronomy) from the Open University, United Kingdom

* Statistics from Carnegie Mellon University

* Sign language from Michigan State University

* History from Universidad de Sevilla, Spain

In determining the best choice of open courseware, surfers need to recognize not only what subjects they want to study, of course, but also what learning presentations work best for them. For instance, some people are visual learners, others benefit from audio commentary, still more respond to written text.

The only caveat to this open availability is that these classes are from a remove: there is no feedback from instructors and students cannot earn credit towards a degree.

But the chance to explore for free and on one's own terms and schedule an almost limitless number of subjects through some of the world's leading experts, whether via the consortium or elsewhere, presents edifying possibilities any time of the year, not only when school is in session.
Top Ten Open Courseware programs:

 1.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology
 2.  The Open University, United Kingdom
 3.  Carnegie Mellon University
 4.  Tufts University
 5.  Stanford University
 6.  University of California, Berkeley
 7.  Utah State University
 8.  Kutztown University
 9.  University of Southern Queensland, Australia
10.  University of California, Irvine

Ranked by the academic resource cite

Jason Caudill (University of Tennessee) is Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn. Educated at University of Tennessee (B.S., Business Administration; M.B.A., Finance, Operations Management, and New Venture Analysis; Ph.D., Instructional Technology), he has published numerous book chapters and magazine articles on instructional technology and open-source software. Caudill also is a veteran teacher of online instruction in higher education. Email him at
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Title Annotation:Science and Technology
Author:Caudill, Jason
Publication:Phi Kappa Phi Forum
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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