Courses debut on Internet

From China to Chile to Cameroon, access to a Yale education will soon be just a click away.

Open Yale Courses, a new service designed to make the course materials for seven undergraduate classes fully available to online patrons, will debut in two weeks as part of a larger effort to increase the University’s presence on the Web. The electronic feature will include videos and transcripts of lectures, as well as problem sets and lecture notes, all accessible free of charge.

While some faculty and students interviewed said they are concerned that efforts to disseminate Yale’s academic resources through the internet devalue the education enrolled students receive, others ­— including Yale’s associate secretary and director of marketing and trademark licensing Stephanie Schwartz — said these programs are necessary steps toward realizing the University’s mission to advance, preserve and spread knowledge.

University officials also said Yale is placing increasing emphasis on attempts to bolster other online offerings — from recordings of lectures and presentations on Apple’s iTunes U platform to the digitization of books, maps and other primary sources from Yale’s libraries and museums.

University Secretary Linda Lorimer said the Internet allows Yale to make unprecedented strides in increasing access to information.

“Yale can now achieve a multiplier effect from its educational treasury,” she said. “We have the opportunity in this digital age to serve not only Yale students but also people around the world.”

With funding from a $755,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation — for which University President Richard Levin serves as a director — seven introductory-level lecture courses were filmed last year in their entirety. This fall, Schwartz said, Open Yale Courses — which is being coordinated by art history and classics professor Diana Kleiner — will be unveiled online and will include streaming videos of each lecture in those seven classes, along with the rest of the course materials.

Over the next three years, the program will aim to provide access to 30 Yale courses, Schwartz said. Filming for these additional courses has already begun and will continue in the future, she said.

Similar projects at other universities are larger in scale, but typically do not feature video content of lectures, which she said can be very expensive and difficult to produce.

Cecilia d’Oliveira, executive director of the OpenCourseWare project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said MIT’s service was started in 2001 and now receives 1 million visitors to its Web site each month. She said 60 percent of those visits come from computers located outside of North America.

Donna Dubinsky ’77 — a member of the Yale Corporation and former chief executive officer of Palm, Inc. — said Tuesday at a Jonathan Edwards Master’s Tea that Open Yale Courses would differentiate itself from MIT’s OpenCourseWare because it will focus on depth rather than breadth. Its online offerings will also feature a distinctive, well-organized Web site, she said.

But some members of the Yale community, like economics professor Robert Evenson, said he thinks the Open Yale Courses program depreciates the value of the education that Yale students receive on campus, in classrooms.

Given the high cost of tuition that Yale students pay, “Yale should focus on providing an education to its students,” he said.

Mary Freeman ’11 said she thinks it will be difficult to justify paying tuition to Yale if courses are also available for free on the Internet.

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, said he thinks his education will suffer because he may stop attending his lecture classes if videos are available online.

Still, physics and astronomy professor Charles Bailyn, whose course “Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics” will be one of the seven featured in Open Yale Courses’ pilot year, said he is excited by the program.

“It’s a course I’ve worked hard on and that I’m proud of, and I like the idea that more people can see what we do here,” he said. “I particularly like the idea of other teachers both at Yale and other universities being able to see what I do.”

But Bailyn said that while he does not have any intention to publish papers or books based on his course material, he could see this being a main cause of concern for other professors.

“Professors for whom their class materials might eventually turn into a scholarly book could certainly want to keep their lectures private,” he said.

Yu Shen ’08, who is originally from China, said she supports the University’s initiatives — including Open Yale Courses, iTunes U and the digitization of library and museum holdings because they are consistent with the mission of an educational institution.

“All of these initiatives are great ways for Yale to expand its reach and educate the world,” she said. “In China, lots of people would be interested in watching Yale classes and viewing materials — especially in subject areas like art history where Chinese universities don’t have the same resources as Yale.”

Yale will benefit from these initiatives too, Schwartz said. By further spreading awareness of the University’s resources and allowing more people to reap the resources’ benefits, she said, the University’s global image will improve. Online materials could also be catered to alumni to further engage them in the University community beyond their time at Yale, she said.

Lorimer said the unique experience that Yale students receive could never be replicated online. Degrees are not offered to people who take courses online, she said, and students at Yale gain much from the interaction they have with their peers — a facet of a Yale education not available online.

“No one is going to think that online instruction is going to take the place of the on-campus experience,” she said.

Courses in departments including history, economics and English are currently being taped and will be put online in the future.

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