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Riding the Wave of OpenCourseWare

By Jackie Powder

The Bloomberg School's foray into the world of providing free online educational content began modestly: a website with materials from a handful of popular courses.

Since the February 2005 launch, the School's OpenCourseWare (OCW) project has grown to include content from more than 70 courses. "I think that being on the crest of the wave of providing open access to knowledge is where a No. 1 school like ours needs to be," says James D. Yager, PhD, senior associate dean for academic affairs and Edyth H. Schoenrich Professor in Preventive Medicine.

Sukon Kanchanaraksa, PhD, director of the School's Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology, says that the School's OCW website signals to online learners that the material is reliable. "It's not just content from anybody out there," he says.

A 2004 pilot grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation allowed the School to create the initial Web infrastructure and publish the content of 10 courses. The program follows the model of OCW founder Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Faculty participation is voluntary, course materials must be copyright-free, and any reuse of content must be offered under OCW's terms.

"Academicians might say, 'I'd like to use some of this material,' and they can, as long as they acknowledge the source and make what they create using it freely available. And public health practitioners might say, 'I'd like to go back and review some basic courses,'" says Yager, who with four fellow faculty members is preparing content from toxicology lectures for OCW.

An additional $250,000 Hewlett Foundation grant in 2005 allowed the School to improve the infrastructure and publish additional courses. Other recent upgrades include audio lectures and an image library of more 1,000 educational resources provided by faculty.

Since the Hewlett grant ended in September, the School is now supporting the program. "I think we can and will sustain it," Yager says. "But to do more now will require other sources of funding. I think it has great potential."