As Charles M. Vest, the ex-President of MIT retells the story, OpenCourseWare all began with Provost Robert Brown launching a committee of faculty, students and administrators to “consider how MIT should position itself in the use of educational technology and distance learning” (Vest 2006, 20). After deliberating on the extant business models, and considering how MIT could make a unique contribution to the field, their recommendation to Vest was for all the material to be made freely available to the world. Thus, on April 4, 2001, Vest announced that within the next 10 years, nearly all the MIT courses would be made available on the Internet, and that this new program would be known as MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT news 2001a). 

By 2007, MIT’s ambitious goal had been reached; and currently they have published “core academic materials–including syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams – from more than 2,000 MIT courses” (MIT OCW 2007; MIT OCW 2010d). This very expensive undertaking - each course cost between $10,000—$15,000 to put online - was mainly financed by the Willam and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon foundations, through a joint initial grant of $11 million (MIT news 2001b). During this period, MIT has worked together with the Hewlett foundation, which committed to long-term funding of a range of Open Educational Resources, to spread the idea of OCW to other universities, and countries (Hewlett Foundation, 2005). 

The OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC) was formed in 2005 to promote the further spread and uptake of the OpenCourseWare idea, and to support the institutions that participate (MIT OCW 2010; OpenCourseWare Consortium, 2008). The OCWC define the minimum requirement for an institution to join the OpenCourseWare Consortium as a committment to publishing ten courses online (OpenCourseWare Consortium, 2008). Although some courses include video or audio from the lectures, most courses are quite skeletal, and are not designed for distance teaching, but mainly for re-use by other educators and self-study by motivated students. This is underlined by the use of a Creative Commons open license, which allows anyone to redistribute and modify the materials, as long as they do not make a profit, and give the same reuse rights to their own derivative material (MIT OCW 2010c). 

MIT’s adventure in providing an al- 

ternative to this nightmare began in 1999 

when Provost Robert Brown launched a 

committee of faculty, students, and ad- 

ministrators to consider how MIT should 

position itself in the use of educational 

technology and dis- 

tance learning. At issue 

was whether there was 

a large-scale program 

we should undertake. 

Frankly, like others, we 

entered this discussion 

assuming that we would 

find a market niche 

for distance education 

in some form and that 

revenue streams would 

be generated to cover 

costs—perhaps even 

to exceed costs and be 

plowed back into the 

program. The commit- 

tee’s initial questions 

were frequently about 

what the right constitu- 

ency would be. 

ready to report back and asked whether I 

was prepared to receive its recommenda- 

tion. He alerted me that the committee 

would recommend that “we give away all 

of our course materials by putting them 

on the Web.” Now, my proclivity is to 

think about important 

issues for some time 

before coming to a 

conclusion. In this case, 

however, I immediately 

grasped the elegance of 

this idea, as well as its 

consistency with MIT’s 

history and values. Let 

me explain. 

In the late 1950s 

through the 1960s, MIT 

played the prominent 

role in launching the 

“engineering science 

revolution.” The origins 

of the revolution lay in 

the Radiation Labora- 

tory, which MIT oper- 

ated for the U.S. Army 

to being one more centrally based on sci- 

entific first principles. 

This stimulated an educational revo- 

lution, particularly under the vision and 

leadership of Gordon Brown, dean of 

the MIT School of Engineering. Subjects 

were redeveloped on a base of science, 

and new teaching materials were gener- 

ated throughout MIT—lecture notes, 

problem sets, and experiments. In due 

course much of this was formalized as 

published textbooks and textbook series. 

But what really propagated the “engineer- 

ing science revolution” was that many of 

the rapidly increasing numbers of engi- 

neering PhD’s educated at MIT joined 

faculties of universities and colleges all 

across the country, bringing with them 

their lecture notes, draft textbooks, prob- 

lem sets, and laboratory experiments. 

These faculty moving throughout 

the country adapted their teaching ma- 

terials to their new environments. They 

added to, subtracted from, and used 

the materials to teach at varying paces. 

This merged into developing programs 

Like others, 

we entered 

this discussion 

assuming that 

we would find