MIT set to offer new net freebie

June 1, 2001

Not content with trying to turn the tide of for-profit e-learning with its OpenCourseWare project, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has set its sights on creating a free course management system.

The Open Knowledge Initiative, led by the MIT with Stanford University as its main partner, will create a web-based environment for educational resources.

Unlike commercial e-learning offerings, the OKI is being designed by academics.

According to the academics involved, commercial learning systems are designed to support the "lowest common denominator of client needs".

But teaching staff are starting to need more advanced pedagogical tools such as voice capture and systems to support team and project-based learning.

The OKI platform will facilitate such innovation, as well as allowing for better integration with institutional systems such as student records.

The other key difference between proprietary e-learning platforms is the OKI's "open source" status. MIT and Stanford want to encourage collaboration and spark an open-source developer community to create a sustainable support model. Anyone will be able to extend the system by adding new features or tools.

The initiative is expected to prove attractive to institutions that want to offer online courses but do not want to shell out for a commercial infrastructure.

The software will be free but the expense of providing hardware and support remain.

The project is being funded by a grant of almost $2 million (£1.4 million) from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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