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Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi

By Lisa Neal / April 2006

TYPE: INTERVIEW
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In 1999, MIT Professor of linguistics Shigeru Miyagawa was a member of a small MIT faculty committee that originally recommended the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative, in which course materials would be made available to the public online for free. This resulted in a huge, still-ongoing project at MIT, and it set the entire OCW world in motion as a truly global phenomenon. My first contact with Shigeru came in the form of fan mail, which I wrote to him after reading some of his wonderful work on culture, education, and personal media.

Lisa Neal: When you proposed MIT OpenCourseWare, why did you recommend a model that involved no fees as opposed to starting a way that students could earn MIT credits online with a fee structure?

Shigeru Miyagawa: We initially explored the possibility of starting a for-profit model, but it became evident early on that there was not a workable model. It was clear from the beginning that MIT would not offer credits online, because MIT education is what you receive when you come to MIT as a student and live and learn in this environment. We decided to recommend the OCW model, with open and free access to our teaching materials, because we felt that it was vital that we create an alternative model to the for-profit models that were particularly prevalent in the dot-com era.

LN: What surprised you most about how MIT OpenCourseWare has evolved, at its five-year anniversary?

SM: We now receive over one million visits a month, from every continent in the world-even a few from Antarctica! None of us on the committee that proposed OCW to the administration ever imagined that OCW would get this big. For each of us, it has been one of the most gratifying experiences of our career.

LN: What would you do differently, in retrospect?

SM: Nothing, I think.

LN: What do you believe the future holds for MIT OpenCourseWare?

SM: In April 2001, then-president of MIT, Dr. Charles Vest, proclaimed that we will put the teaching materials from all 2,000 courses we teach at MIT on OCW. Today, we have reached 70 percent of that, so we are well on our way to fulfilling the original promise. The OCW team, led by executive director Anne Margulies, has been doing a terrific job. One thing we have learned is that the courses with video lectures, such as Prof. Strang's math course and Prof. Lewen's physics course, are very popular, and we are looking into increasing the number of OCW courses with video lectures. Beyond MIT, there is a global OCW movement, with already more than 70 major institutions around the world that have launched an OCW site of their own. We had a panel on this at the World Summit on the Information Society at Tunis last November. This is a truly exciting new trend, one that MIT started and, as a UNESCO official told me at Tunis, it is now unstoppable.

LN: What do you think of the recent announcement that the Open University (OU) received a grant of around ?2.5 million from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to put its course materials online? And will this impact MIT OpenCourseWare?

SM: We welcome this new development. The Hewlett Foundation, along with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, provided the bulk of the funds for MIT OCW. For the Hewlett Foundation, MIT OCW is the cornerstone of their global Open Educational Resource (OER) strategy. OU is the latest, and an extremely important, player in OER. I believe that this effort on the part of Hewlett, and of OU, will significantly enhance the global OCW movement.



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    Lisa Neal
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