Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Open Access Tissue Engineering

Are you curious about the field of tissue engineering? This fall, you have the opportunity to take a course on the subject from your own home. This opportunity is not affiliated with Sally Struthers or the International Correspondence School. The course is offered online by a joint program of Harvard and MIT.

HST 535: The Principles and Practice of Tissue Engineering will be available starting in September, and will be viewable by webcast for half a year. That means you get curriculum and video of the course. The website even says that,
during the lectures, questions can be e-mailed to the Course Coordinator.
MIT has opened its curriculum to the public for the past several years. Using a platform called OpenCourseWare, anyone from around the world can take MIT courses. Well, not exactly. As a resource to "educators, students and self-learners around the world," anyone with an internet connection can dial up the MIT site for course materials from subjects ranging from planetary studies to urban planning and literature to biological engineering.

From the OCW site, MIT OCW:
  • Is a publication of MIT course materials
  • Does not require any registration
  • Is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting activity
  • Does not provide access to MIT faculty
I can see motivated undergraduates, interested (and maybe retired) citizens, faculty working on new curriculum, science outreach workers, students at smaller colleges, and anyone needing broad information about a specific topics and even busy graduate students finding this resource useful. Perhaps those with the most to benefit from this program are students in developing countries. In fact, MIT OCW's stated goals are to:
  • Provide free, searchable access to MIT's course materials for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.
  • Extend the reach and impact of MIT OCW and the "opencourseware" concept.
This second objective is a noble one. Long regarded as the premier science and engineering university in the world, it is an important statement that MIT is making curriculum resources open to all. Because of its reputation, MIT is probably the only entity that could pull off an attempt to change the way information is available to the interested public. At first, there were some complaints about this policy. What are MIT students paying for if all of the course material is free anyway? The answers are in the caveats above: OCW users have no access to faculty and no record of enrollment.

Can secondary (and tertiary) education really be boiled down to networking and credentialing? I'll wager that the majority of OCW users either passively watch the material or look for specific answers or resources before moving on. Without cramming for exams and office hours to make sure sure you 'get it,' this material is by no means a complete course of study - it is merely another resource. Albeit a free resource from a prestigious institution.

This tissue engineering course however seems to contradict one of OCW's central points. That Professor Myron Spector is available for questions could be his own choice. Maybe this is his way of connecting with the public about science. I like the sound of that.

Open access as a route to citizen scientist.

There's an idea. Can open access (courseware, journals, software, etc.) effectively distribute the building blocks of the ivory tower to the masses and in so doing increase the role of science in society? We shall see.

1 comment:

coturnix said...

MIT is a real leader on this and I hope more schools follow their example. What they do is absolutely fantastic.