My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) highlights the remarkable accomplishments on the MIT Open Courseware initiative, which today features nearly every course offered by the Institute – about 1800 in all. More than 90 percent of MIT's faculty voluntarily participates in the program, offering not only their course materials, but also hundreds of audio and video podcasts. The courses are published under open licences that encourage users to reuse, redistribute, and modify the materials for noncommercial purposes. The user base includes educators planning their own courses, students using the MIT materials to complement courses at their own institutions, and millions of self-learners who use the materials to enhance their personal knowledge.
What started with just MIT has grown into a consortium of dozens of universities from around the world that has published 5,000 courses in many different languages. China leads the way with 30 universities. In all, 160 universities and colleges from 20 countries, including Japan, Colombia, Vietnam, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, have committed to publish at least ten courses in open courseware format so that the materials are freely available on a non-commercial basis. I argue that the Open Courseware initiative is an exciting story of the potential of the Internet, of universities fulfilling their missions as educational leaders, and of the desire of educators around the globe to share their knowledge.
Yet it is also a story in which Canada is largely absent.
The sole Canadian participant in the Open Courseware consortium is Capilano College, a relatively small school with 6,700 students located in North Vancouver, British Columbia. The rest of Canadian higher education – Toronto, York, UBC, Western, Alberta, Queen's, Ottawa, McGill, Dalhousie, Waterloo, and dozens more – are inexplicably missing in action.
While collective agreements may restrict the ability to mandate participation, every Canadian university should be able to identify a handful of professors willing to freely post their course materials so that the ten-course minimum can be met. Indeed, it is an initiative in which everyone benefits – enhanced reputation for the participating professors, name recognition and student recruitment for the institutions, and new access to knowledge for Canadians from coast to coast.
Canadians pride themselves in being one of the world's most connected countries; however, the failure to lead on issues such the Open Courseware consortium and open access to the results of Canadian research suggests that we are still struggling to identify how to fully leverage the benefits to education of new technology and the Internet. Many of Canada's top universities may liken themselves to MIT, but the near-total absence of Canada from the Open Courseware consortium suggests that there is still much to learn.