The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will fund the first phase of OpenCourseWare, MIT's initiative to make nearly all of its course materials available for free on the World Wide Web.
The $11 million in grants ($5.5 million from each foundation) is for the crucial 27-month, $12 million startup and pilot phase of the project. The experience gained from the first phase will help determine the costs of the second phase, which is expected to take six years.
"The prospect of having the materials from MIT's outstanding curriculum available openly and freely on the World Wide Web is enormously exciting," said William G. Bowen, president of the Mellon Foundation.
"MIT's pledge to share its entire curriculum, and to place its entire institution behind this ambitious effort, could transform the way in which content is made available to all who want access to it. High school and college students, faculty, and college graduates and professionals worldwide will be able to learn from the offerings of one of the world's great universities," he said.
"Our hope is that this project will inspire similar efforts at other institutions and will reinforce the concept that ideas are best viewed as the common property of all of us, not as proprietary products intended to generate profits," said Paul Brest, president of the Hewlett Foundation. "We salute President Vest and his colleagues at MIT for having the courage to launch this forward-looking initiative. We are pleased to join with the Mellon Foundation in providing startup funding."
President Charles M. Vest thanked the two foundations for funding the nonprofit venture. "Inherent in the Internet and the web is a force for openness and opportunity that should be the bedrock of its use by universities," he said. "We see MIT OpenCourseWare as opening a new door to the powerful, democratizing and transforming power of education."
The Institute's initial announcement of OCW in April was greeted by an extraordinary outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement from around the world. The idea behind the project is to make MIT course materials that are used in the teaching of almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects available on the web, free of charge, to any user anywhere in the world.
The web site for MIT OCW will include material such as lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists and assignments for virtually all MIT courses across the Institute's entire curriculum.
MIT OCW will serve as a model for university dissemination of knowledge in the Internet age, and will continue the tradition at MIT and in American higher education of open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy and modes of thought.
"MIT OCW will provide an extraordinary resource that people around the world can adapt to their own needs," said Vest. "A new engineering university in Ghana, a precocious high school biology student in New Mexico, an architect in Madrid, a history professor in Chicago or an executive in a management seminar down the hall at MIT will find MIT OCW materials freely and instantly available. It will complement and stimulate innovation in ways that cannot even be envisioned at this point, and will make it possible to quickly disseminate new knowledge and educational content in a wide range of fields."
MIT OpenCourseWare is expected to commence in fall 2002 with an initial goal of making over 500 courses available on the web over the next two and a quarter years. MIT OCW is fundamentally an information dissemination initiative; the Institute will not give either college credit or degrees through MIT OCW.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 18, 2001.