In 2001, MIT launched its OpenCourseWare (OCW), a website providing, for free, the educational content of more than 2000 MIT courses. The OCW’s Fact Sheet states its mission to encourage “open dissemination of educational materials, philosophy, and modes of thought, and will help lead to fundamental changes in the way colleges and universities engage the web as a vehicle for education”. Harvard and Stanford, among other higher learning institutions, have developed their own OCWs in the wake of MIT. In the past, OCW content has included lecture notes, course outlines, reading materials, and course assignments in multimedia formats.
In the spring of 2012 MIT plans to up the ante for free educational material by offering a new level of participation in its prestigious academic community. MITx, as the new program will be called, will offer not only deeply discounted certification of subject mastery but the chance for asynchronous communication with MIT professors, students, and other MITx participants. Certification for courses will not equate with university credits and will likely be issued under a name other than MIT– as OCW’s Fact Sheet makes clear, the cornerstone of an MIT education is the synchronous interaction of faculty and students on campus. However, MITx expands on OCWs by offering faculty feedback on assignments and questions from students. The extent of this interaction has yet to be determined but the Chronicle of Higher Education offers one such example from Anant Agarwal, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, “Through voting and other mechanisms, you can create a funnel of requests so that the requests that come off the funnel at the very top can actually be answered by MIT professors and MIT TA’s,” he said. “A large number of questions at the lower parts of the funnel can actually be answered by other learners who may be slightly ahead.”
MITx can still be critiqued as a Western-based, top-down example of information communication that fails to offer indigenous forms of communication or knowledge, but it is not the goal of the program to specifically reach out to non-industrialized communities. As far as ICT4D is concerned, engineering courses in English currently have little use for the rural poor, but the new program does have implications for technology-based firms located in the urban centers of the global South. As Heeks pointed out in his article mid- to large level firms are often left out of today’s populist-oriented development initiatives, yet growing evidence suggests investment in ICT production leads to greater economic growth than investment in ICT consumption.With this in mind, MITx could be a very positive step towards greater global ICT and overall development.