The Internet is what you make of it
I haven’t seen The Social Network yet, and probably won’t until it comes out on Netflix, but I haven’t missed the hype. It’s interesting to me that Facebook grew up at Harvard right around the same time that OpenCourseWare grew up at MIT, and I can’t help but feel that both are expressions of the institutions which nurtured them.
This is not either to denigrate Harvard, which is obviously a remarkable institution, or to place MIT on a pedestal, but just to point out that for different cultures, the Internet suggests different things. There’s no doubt that the social connections you make at a school like Harvard or MIT are an important part of the value of attending. At Harvard though, it feels like the connections are more self-consciously a major part of the experience–you go to Harvard to make connections and connections are how you go to Harvard. No surprise that Facebook might emerge in this kind of environment.
No doubt people make connections at MIT as well, but I was surprised when I came here to learn about MIT’s admissions and financial aid policies, its commitment to meritocracy and number of first generation college attendees. Relative to Harvard (and again, not putting MIT on a pedestal) MIT is more about what you can do, how well you can think, rather than the connections you have. In this environment, with a commitment to equality of access, OpenCourseWare seems like a natural opportunity to see in the Internet.
Certainly Facebook and OpenCourseWare are not the only two ways academic environments could be expressed in cyberspace, and there are plenty of other institutions out there with unique facets of their character that might suggest other directions. What is it about your institution that is waiting to be expressed in an online effort?