Open Courses launch to allow public into classrooms via Web

The University announced Tuesday morning that several of its most popular lecture courses are now available for the general public to watch on the Internet, providing a slice of the Yale education free of charge to anyone in the world with access to the Web.

The program, called Open Yale Courses, was first announced in fall 2006 but had not yet been officially launched on the Internet. Now Internet users have access on the Yale Web site to downloadable and streaming video, audio recordings and written transcripts of each lecture, along with syllabi, reading assignments, problem sets and other assigned materials that accompany the courses.

Yale yesterday launched its first seven courses, which span a variety of disciplines, and more than 30 others will be added online over the next several years, according to a University news release.

The program is virtually unprecedented among America’s leading colleges in its scope and extends far beyond Yale’s previous efforts in the arena of e-learning. In partnership with Stanford University and the University of Oxford, Yale previously offered online courses as part of the now-defunct AllLearn program, founded in 2000 and chaired by University President Richard Levin.

But Open Yale Courses has also inspired some controversy among students, who have questioned whether it is fair that the classes they pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend will be available free of charge to anyone on the Internet.

For Yale, though, the program offers a unique opportunity to spread the University’s teaching and academic resources to the world, Levin said in a statement.

“Information technology allows the knowledge and passion of leading Yale faculty to reach everyone who wishes to explore these subjects,” he said. “We hope students, teachers and anyone with an interest in these topics, no matter where they live or what they do, will take full advantage of these free and easily accessed courses.”

The lectures will not be constrained to the Internet. The University has struck a partnership with governments and education institutions in several countries, including China and India, where the lectures will be broadcast on television, according to a University news release.

Individual faculty members at various international universities will also show the taped lectures. Participating schools include Fudan University and Peking University in China, the University of Mumbai in India, and Waseda University and the University of Tokyo in Japan. Schools from Mexico, Argentina and Ethiopia will also participate, the news release said.

“Open Yale Courses gives us a new opportunity to share our intellectual treasury with everyone and for free,” University Secretary Linda Lorimer said in a prepared statement. “We welcome other universities, high schools and non-governmental organizations to use these and future courses we will post on the Internet.”

The first seven classes were posted online yesterday morning at open.yale.edu/courses. They include: “Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics,” with Astronomy professor Charles Bailyn; “Modern Poetry,” with English Department Chair Langdon Hammer; “Death,” with Philosophy professor Shelly Kagan; “Fundamentals of Physics,” with Physics professor Ramamurti Shankar; “Introduction to Political Philosophy,” with Political Science professor and Branford College Master Steven Smith; “Introduction to Psychology,” with professor Paul Bloom; and “Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible),” with Religious Studies professor Christine Hayes.

Among the classes to be recorded in the future are several in the areas of music and the arts, said History of Art professor Diana E. E. Kleiner, the University’s former deputy provost for the arts and the director of the project.

The AllLearn program, which offered 110 not-for-credit courses to more than 11,000 students from at least 70 countries while it was in operation, shut down in March 2006 because of financial woes. Despite a $12 million initial investment, the program was never profitable.

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