In the fall of 2002, MIT proudly announced its OpenCourseWare initiative. They were rightly praised at the time for putting course materials directly online and making them freely available to anyone with access to the web. I was interested in biology classes and poked around the site and came away a little disappointed. Not all the lectures were available as audio, the sound quality wasn’t good, and the lecture notes had images ripped out of every other slide along with some legal boilerplate about how copyrighted material had to be removed. In other words, wherever the lecture snipped a picture out of a textbook (which was often), they couldn’t distribute that slide to the internet masses. Taken all together, I was impressed with the notion of OpenCourseWare but not with the reality.
I forgot about open course ware for a long time, but recently found a page linking to podcast lectures from UC Berkeley. This time it was the real deal. I’m still interested in biology, so I’m watching the lectures for MCB 110: General Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. There’s audio, video, and PowerPoint slides, and the quality is very high. The slides are complete and unexpurgated. It’s a phenomenal resource. There’s just no doubt that free course material like this is going to transform lives.
I’ve since gone back and looked at MIT’s latest OpenCourseWare biology classes. I’m happy to report that now there’s plenty of good stuff there too, including video lectures in which Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute and one of the more famous geneticists in the world, explains genetics to you. To get that delivered, at no cost, to the privacy and comfort of your sitting room, well… that’s remarkable.