"Over the past decade, top universities have begun to experiment with online courseware, leveraging one of their core assets—the undergraduate course—to reach out to new constituencies of learners. Ithaka S+R embarked on a project intended to chronicle the development of several key initiatives in this space, in an effort to provide senior academic leadership with actionable, strategic intelligence around activity in this emerging field.
Two years of research has resulted in a scholarly monograph, Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses, published by Princeton University Press and available through Amazon and other book sellers.
Seizing the opportunities presented by digital technology and the networked environment, some of the world’s most prestigious institutions have begun to “unlock their gates,” converting course materials traditionally accessible only to admitted students—syllabi, handouts, and even recordings of lectures—into a digital form available to the broader public. These initiatives to create web-based course content—called “open courseware” when materials are offered to the public free of charge—constitute a much discussed but little studied trend in higher education.
Given Ithaka S+R’s prior work on the impact of the web on higher-education institutions like the library and the university press, we saw the need to provide an analysis of this new means of distributing university teaching in the digital age. With financial support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we launched this research project—drawing heavily on archival materials and exclusive interviews with key players. In addition to this work, Ithaka S+R is committed to a growing program of projects around teaching and learning with technology in the 21st century university.
The research and analysis compiled in Unlocking the Gates captures some of the lessons learned in this young and evolving field. Drawing on specific examples from case studies of leading courseware initiatives—now-defunct for-profit initiatives like AllLearn and Fathom.com; free and open projects like MIT’s pioneering OpenCourseWare, Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, Open Yale Courses, and webcast.berkeley; and the expansive NPTEL project by the Indian Institutes of Technology— this book provides insight into a number of relevant strategic questions, including In a digital age, how can universities distinguish themselves in competition for reputation, students, and faculty? How will these projects continue to sustain themselves as they mature beyond the experimental phase? Can higher education institutions maintain the campus-based business model that has sustained them for centuries, while also leveraging new technology to expand access to the knowledge they produce? And, faced with fiscal uncertainty and the need to increase access to higher education while maintaining quality, could these projects eventually have more transformative applications than we are seeing at present?"