Letter regarding the future of MIT OpenCourseWare

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The following email was sent today to the MIT faculty and instructors by President L. Rafael Reif.

Dear Colleagues,

I write to let you know that I am charging a faculty committee to plan for the future of OCW.

The background

Sixteen years ago, MIT's 15th president, the late Chuck Vest, launched the Lifelong Learning Committee, asking its members to propose an educational technology project that would extend MIT's reach beyond our campus classrooms. The committee delivered the startling advice that MIT should serve the global community of teachers and learners by making all of its course materials available on the web for free -- and in April 2001, MIT surprised the world by announcing MIT OpenCourseWare.

In the 15 years since

  • OCW has published course materials for more than 2,300 MIT subjects, attracted more than 200 million visitors from around the world and inspired a global open learning movement
  • MIT faculty members have continued to surprise the world with new approaches to the science, policy and practice of digital learning
  • And the world now enjoys an array of advanced technologies for connecting global users to first-rate knowledge.

A moment for assessment and planning

As we celebrate OCW's successes, we must also look towards the future -- to the new technological opportunities for OCW, and to the challenge of ensuring its financial sustainability. Now is a natural moment to assess the current landscape and to chart a path forward for OCW, in keeping with the innovative spirit and MIT values that first brought it to life.

With this letter, I ask Professor Karen Willcox and Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma to lead the Presidential Committee on OCW and the Future, whose members are listed below. I charge the committee to

  • Revisit OCW's original goals in the context of the current and future digital learning landscape and to confirm, revise or refresh them, so we have clear objectives to focus our decisions
  • Conduct a survey of other open education providers and technologies
  • Provide one or more mechanisms for MIT community feedback
  • Seek expert outside perspective, as the committee sees fit
  • Identify two to three paths for the future of OCW, specifying the goals each would achieve, and the actions and resources required.

Schedule and next steps

I ask that the committee begin work immediately and present me with a final report in the fall semester.

*       *       *

OCW began as an inspired faculty idea, and it has grown and flourished through the combined efforts of virtually every member of our faculty and of OCW's dedicated staff. I am grateful to the Committee co-chairs and members for their willingness to lead this important next step -- to reexamine, reinvent and reinvigorate OCW, and to align it with MIT's overall open education strategy. I look forward to reviewing their results.

In launching OCW, President Vest explained that it expressed "our belief in the way education can be advanced -- by constantly widening access to information and by inspiring others to participate." I am eager to learn how we can best meet these objectives now.


L. Rafael Reif

Presidential Committee on OCW and the Future

  • Professor Karen E. Willcox, co-chair, Aeronautics and Astronautics; Co-Director, Center for Computational Engineering; Chair, OCW Faculty Advisory Committee
  • Professor Sanjay E. Sarma, co-chair, Mechanical Engineering; Vice President for Open Learning
  • Professor Hal Abelson, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Professor Tayo I. Akinwande, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Faculty Director, Empowering the Teachers
  • Noam M. Buckman '16, Mechanical Engineering (incoming graduate student)
  • Professor Paloma Duong, Global Studies and Languages
  • Professor Eric Klopfer, Urban Studies and Planning; Director, Scheller Teacher Education Program
  • Professor Samuel R. Madden, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Director, BigData@CSAIL
  • Professor Thomas W. Malone, Sloan
  • Professor Haynes R. Miller, Mathematics
  • Professor Hazel L. Sive, Biology
  • Christopher D. Smith, Urban Studies and Planning (graduate student)

Topics: Letters to the Community, online learning, OpenCourseWare, Staff, Faculty, Students

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