Director Letter

Dear Friend of OCW,

I was one of the first hires at OCW when the program got off the ground in 2002. MIT had announced OCW the year before, and there was an intense urgency and excitement about putting the idea -- publishing MIT course materials online for free -- into practice.

Those first few years were incredibly challenging because nothing like OCW existed. We were "building the boat while sailing it," actively publishing courses while we were still developing our publication process and systems. And all the while, we were trying to explain the concept of “free and open.”

What fueled us was the enthusiasm and dedication of the faculty, and the steadfast belief in our mission from the OCW staff and the foundations and corporations that provided financial support. But the most important driver and motivator were our learners.

“The first time I learned about OCW, I was at my desk at work. I was so surprised and happy that I sent the link to everybody in the office. I am an African-American single parent who could have never afforded an M.I.T education, but because of your generosity not only do I have access to this treasure chest, my 6th grader is now learning Japanese through OCW. I can't wait to see your advanced French courses. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. My future is looking bright.”

Marjorie, independent learner, USA 10/18/03

Early on in our program hundreds of emails came from just about every corner of the world. OCW learners shared their stories of triumph in mastering concepts, of personal joy in being able to pursue their educational passions, and of amazement that MIT educational resources were available for free with no strings attached. We also had a fair share of criticism and helpful feedback that gave us ideas on how to improve OCW.

Fast forward 15 years, and we have learned many lessons:

  • OCW offers a vast array of subjects taught at MIT both at undergraduate and graduate levels. Making these resources available to anyone in the world carries a profound responsibility for accuracy and precision.
  • MIT faculty are incredibly busy, so the OCW team takes great care to make the process as easy and streamlined as possible for faculty.
  • OCW offers a unique window into how subjects are taught so educators can consider MIT’s pedagogical approaches.
  • People around the world are hungry for knowledge and lifelong learning. Over 50% of OCW users are independent learners, not associated with a formal educational program.
  • Video courses are, by far, the most used and requested resource. Yet it takes a significant amount of time and funding to support a course with full video lectures.
  • Surprisingly, with the rise of massive open online courses, OCW use has also increased by about 50%.
  • MIT students have been enthusiastic users of OCW. We know that whenever registration or exam periods near, web traffic from MIT increases significantly. We’re happy to serve as an advising tool and a resource for exam preparation.

Innovations to support learners and educators

We’ve used these lessons (and many more) to help guide us as we improve and grow our offerings. In the last few years, we created OCW Scholar, which provides all the resources necessary for independent learners to master introductory subjects. With OCW Scholar, learners can get their minds around biology, psychology, chemistry, computer science, and calculus. An OCW Scholar version of Biological Chemistry, covering the chemical processes within living organisms, is coming soon.

“I've just discovered the excellent lectures on Math, and they're helping me put math into context and teaching it in a way that makes sense of what I have to do. I was an English teacher, but have found math the most exciting, fun thing I've ever learned. Now, having to be able to teach calculus in a year's time, I've been working on it and have found the lectures really excellent. I intend to spend the rest of my summer holiday using the lectures to help me with my studies.”

Michele, Educator, United Kingdom

In addition to OCW Scholar, learners can access more than 2,300 courses that span all academic disciplines at MIT. Recent improvements offer more contextual information on the course home page and allow learners to easily access previous versions of the subject. New course collections and crosslinks offer connections among related courses and recommend relevant study materials from OCW and other sites.

Another recent innovation is OCW Educator. We support teachers by sharing the pedagogical approaches and insights of MIT faculty, allowing teachers to improve their personal knowledge and easily incorporate OCW materials in their teaching.

Striving to improve and grow OCW

While we’ve learned quite a bit about publishing courses online over the last 15 years, we continue our quest to improve and grow our offerings. We continually expand OCW with new MIT course materials to remain in-step with the MIT curriculum. We enhance the depth and quality of materials, add OCW website features, and refine our internal work processes to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.

We also support and encourage other institutions in their efforts to grow the online storehouse of thousands of open and free educational materials.

And of course, we are always looking for more ways to sustain the OCW program to ensure long-term financial viability and a vibrant future for OCW. We are grateful to our funders and the thousands of individuals who have supported OCW for the last 15 years. We will be launching our most ambitious fundraising campaign soon – asking 2,001 people to donate to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We hope we can count on you to help us reach this goal.

Here's to another 15 years of open sharing!

Cecilia d'Oliveira
Associate Dean of Digital Learning
MIT OpenCourseWare