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OpenCourseWare Opens Options

By Kristi Birch

When Bill Brieger was in Nigeria this summer working with the staff of a USAID-sponsored immunization project, he needed to quickly educate some of them about the topic. He directed them to the "Problem Solving for Immunization Programs" course on the Bloomberg School's OpenCourseWare (OCW) website. There, they downloaded lecture notes, software tutorials and other resources.

"They were very excited," says Brieger, DrPH '92, MPH, associate professor of International Health. "Most of the staff are new hires for this project, and they knew they would benefit from the basics."

It's a classic example of OCW's reach and power. Initiated by MIT in 2001, OCW provides free access (though no academic credit) to university course materials to students, faculty and self-learners worldwide. In February, the Bloomberg School launched its OCW website. By the summer, the site was receiving 40,000 page views per month. Content for 10 courses is now available. The School hopes to add 75 to 100 courses in the next five years.

As OCW grows, it not only spreads the School's knowledge, but knowledge about the School. "It whets people's appetites," says Brieger. "Once they see the quality of the courses, it gives them a different perspective. They wonder, do I want to [take classes], and can I afford it?" A July survey supports Brieger's observation: 37 percent of users identified themselves as prospective students, and 67 percent were interested in a degree program.

By making lecture notes or recorded lectures, reading lists and other resources for the School's most popular courses available to anyone in the world—especially to those who need health information the most but cannot afford it—the School is furthering its mission of disseminating knowledge and building capacity in developing countries.

"This literally reaches hundreds of thousands of people. It's part of our mission," says Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS '73, former dean of the Bloomberg School. "At the same time, it's also a way of marketing public health education and the School to those who might not otherwise have thought of entering the field. It puts us right out there."