Sara Rimer of the New York Times has done a nice piece on Walter Lewin and MIT OpenCourseWare that is generating tremendous traffic to the site. We received 166K visits to the site yesterday, and the article is tops on the most e-mailed list this morning. If memory serves, that’s the most media-driven traffic we’ve ever received to the site.
There’s also an interesting set of comments attached to the article–68 so far–with a discussion of the relative value of online vs. traditional classes. Most of the discussion misses the subtlety that OCW really isn’t online instruction, and wasn’t intended to be. Rather than addressing the very real need for certification of learning (which is really what the discussion there is about), OCW was originally intended to address the more fundamental issue of access to educational materials regardless of certification issues.
The clearest example of what this means is probably the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health OCW. The information that is provided through that site is of tremendous help to communities around the world simply because it’s available, and can be used to improve available care and services. JHSPH also runs a distance learning program for those seeking the certification necessary to work in public health fields where certification is required. These are two distinct needs met by two distinct programs–yet much of the material used in the distance learning program is freely available through the OCW site and does not undercut enrollments.
This is not to say that OCW can’t address the need for certification–it can and should–but my hope would be that it does not do so at the expense of morphing into distance learning or losing site of the access mission.