About a month after his “Fundamentals of Physics” course was posted on the Open Yale Courses Web site in December 2007, physics professor Ramamurti Shankar received an e-mail from a high school teacher at Victoria Bilingual Christian Academy in Quito, Ecuador.
“This has been a blessing to me,” the teacher, Raul Morillo, wrote in the e-mail. “I am trying to take advantage of it as long as I can.”
The school is a poor one, Morillo told the News in a phone interview last Thursday. They watched the lectures on one of five computers in the entire school.
The students at Victoria Bilingual Christian Academy are not alone in using Open Yale Courses — a free, online resource to a selection of courses taught by prominent professors and scholars at the University. Despite the failure of a similar program less than a decade ago, the Open Yale program is thriving, especially at institutions of higher learning across the globe.
And as the University attempts to build its reputation as a global institution, the focus is not just on recruiting international students and professors, but spreading the Yale seed overseas.
As a growing global magnet, the Web site has received visitors from 187 countries, said Open Yale Courses Director Diana Kleiner. An Oct. 16 press release from the Office of Public Affairs announced that eight new lectures were recently added to total 15 courses — for worldwide access in such locations as the University of Bahrain, the Instituto de Tecnológico de Buenos Aires, Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico and Bogazici University in Turkey. With all the professors’ remarks — quirky or gauche — caught on film, Open Yale Courses offers a free Ivy League education to prestigious institutions as well as local schools around the world.
Morillo later sent a photo of the high school students: Eight boys, one girl and the teacher posed around a computer, most of the students wearing track suits. One of the boys, Pablo Botero, said he is now interested in the possibility of attending universities in the United States.
Open Yale Courses is not the first initiative to bring educational materials to an online audience. While Open Yale Courses attracts “vast numbers” of visitors, its forefather in 2001, AllLearn, never caught on in the same way, Kleiner said. AllLearn started as an online project between Yale, the University of Oxford and Stanford University to make three to eight-week courses and forums, among other programs, available to their respective alumni. Eventually, she said, AllLearn expanded its audience to include the entire online community.
But unlike Open Yale Courses, which is free of charge, AllLearn users were charged fees ranging from $80 to $300, Kleiner said. Kleiner cited free use as a likely reason for why Open Yale Courses is significantly more successful.
“I think they are somewhat different in kind,” Kleiner said. “We were experimenting with something different then.”
After all, AllLearn was founded just after the turn of the millennium, when universities were just beginning to look into online education.
She said organizers were aware that AllLearn could have been used abroad, but they did not intentionally target an international audience, as Yale officials did with Open Yale Courses.
AllLearn closed in 2006. Kleiner said the project did not raise enough funds to operate while some users were discouraged by the website’s fees.
Open Yale Courses, on the other hand, is funded by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Kleiner said. She said the experience for her and her colleagues involved with AllLearn proved invaluable to the creation of Open Yale Courses.
“Many of us cut our teeth on that project,” she said.
AN INTERNATIONAL YALE
From its conception, Open Yale Courses aimed at an international audience. 60 percent of Web site’s visitors are foreign users, and universities abroad are showing clear interest.
Donald Filer, associate secretary and director of the office of international affairs at Yale, said University officials reached out to particular schools that had previous relationships with Yale. For instance, he said, Tecnológico de Monterrey hosts Yalies in the International Bulldogs Program, and in turn, their students participate in Yale Summer Session programs.
“We approach our friends and ask them if this is something of interest to them,” Filer said.
Alex Markman, the director for university and corporate relations at the Institute Tecnológico de Buenos Aires said the decision was easy.
“The contents were interesting and we were approached with the possibility,” he said. “When we showed it to the faculty they thought it was attractive.”
The Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires uses parts of Shankar’s physics course to prepare high school students who specifically wish to enroll at their university, she said.
But most schools abroad use the Web site to simulate learning at Yale — in their own classrooms.
Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico incorporates Yale courses to develop and expand the university’s “Knowledge Hub,” an online resource available to anyone in the world, said Dean of the Graduate School of Education José Escamilla. He said one third of Knowledge Hub’s users are now from outside Mexico. The top international users are in the United States, the United Kingdom and India.
“I think that it is very interesting that we can share knowledge,” said Escamilla, who is also the Director of the “Innov@TE Center,” the Center for Innovation in Technology and Education, at Tecnológico de Monterrey. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Six online educational resources from Yale have been adopted by Tecnológico de Monterrey faculty, he said. The online lectures are used in physics, modern history, literature and English as a second language classes.
Professor Nayeli Romo at Tecnológico de Monterrey said she uses parts of Yale Professor Langdon Hammer’s class “Modern Poetry” to teach T.S. Eliot. Through a translator on the phone with the News, she said she enjoys both the transcript and video features online.
In particular, her student Luis Angel Canales said he enjoyed learning the historical context of Eliot’s poems from the Yale courses.
Other teachers around the world agreed that the contextual information as well as the subtleties explored in the works of Yale professors proved to benefit their lectures.
Yesim Arat ’78, provost of Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey, who teaches political science at Bogazici University, said she enjoyed the details in the “Introduction to Political Philosophy” lectures taught by Steven Smith, the master of Branford College and a political science and philosophy professor.
“I downloaded, for example, a lecture transcript on Locke,” she wrote in an e-mail from Turkey. “And sure enough, there was a lot I learned, from the way he addresses Locke as Mr. Locke to stories about the master of Balliol College describing Locke as ‘master of taciturnity.’”
Claiming that she is not a “theorist” like Smith, Arat said she “wanted to learn from him.”
Smith said he was delighted to hear that Arat was using this part of his lecture, though he was unaware that she was doing so.
“I loved that image of Locke so I’m glad she picked it up,” he said.
DYNAMIC, ON SCREEN
Psychology professor Paul Bloom said he has received a number of e-mails from self-taught students navigating his course, “Introduction to Psychology.” Despite this positive response, Bloom said virtual learning takes away from the full classroom experience.
“I don’t think seeing these courses on the screen is a substitute for being there and getting to interact with the professor,” he said.
Shankar agreed that live interaction is a central component in learning. “What they don’t have is access to me like the students would after the class,” he said.
But Botero at Victoria Bilingual Christian Academy said the classes are dynamic, despite being on screen.
“It’s not like watching a video on YouTube or something,” he said on the phone from Ecuador. “You feel part of the class.”
The idea of being able to affect positive change, Shankar said, was what led him to allow his class to be filmed for Open Yale Courses.
“I know that it would have made a big difference to me,” Shankar said, referring to his own youth in India.