In age of e-learning, Yale’s peers open classrooms to public

With the rising popularity of online academic resources available to the public, all that is necessary now to sit in on an Ivy League lecture or compare notes with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduate is a computer and an Internet connection.

Recent years have seen the rise of e-learning opportunities offered by the nation’s top colleges and by institutions around the globe. Initiatives such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare Web site and the popular Epsilen Environment networking site integrate technology into educational systems and help open up university material and resources to a wider, cyberspace community.

Launched in 2002, MIT’s OpenCourseWare Web site — which offers the public all of MIT’s academic resources for free — now contains materials, including video and student projects, for almost all of its 1,800 classes, said Steve Carson, external relations director of MIT’s OpenCourseWare Web site. The University of Notre Dame, Tufts University and approximately 180 other schools from all over the globe share course material through the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

“The idea was to take what MIT does best, which is residential education, and take what the Internet does best, which is distributing information widely, and use it to give our academic materials away,” Carson said. “Even at an early stage, it was about sharing all of our content for a global effect.”

Carson said the Web site now receives around a million visitors a month, 60 percent of whom hail from outside of North America. The demographic is diverse.

Online translations of over 700 of MIT’s courses in languages such as Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai are now offered online. Carson estimated that another 750,000 users per month visit these Web sites.

“About 15 percent of our users are educators at other institutions around the world,” he said. “But the real surprise is that one half of those coming to the site are self-learners.”

This diverse population of users is common in other facets of internet academia. The Epsilen Environment, a networking site that describes itself as an “academic Facebook,” boasts 10,118 members from 727 institutions, including Yale and much of the Ivy League. The site — created six years ago — allows users to create ePortfolios and share their resumes, research and course materials with students, faculty and potential employers.

At Stanford, a proposal and prototype of a Stanford OpenCourseWare Web site was prepared last spring for an introductory Computer Science course by undergraduate Klaus Ganser ’10. Stanford has not joined the OpenCourseWare Consortium, but Ganser said the School of Engineering has been working on a program to make certain lectures and classes available online as streaming video.

Yale also has plans to provide increasing numbers of video lectures, library books and faculty-member podcasts to the public over the next few years.

Yale’s Open Educational Resources Video Lecture Project launched this fall and provides video lectures and course materials for seven introductory courses online with plans to expand, Chuck Powell, senior director of Academic Media & Technology, said.

In November, Yale announced plans to work with Microsoft to allow 100,000 books on the business’s search engine.

The public can also stay updated on the musings of the nation’s intellectuals in short podcasts from iTunes U. University President Richard Levin, Law School Dean Harold Koh and Sterling Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom join faculty from schools such as Bowdoin, Stanford and Duke on tracks that range from 10 minutes to two hours.

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