Indeed, that raises a key question: how can professors and universities afford to give away the course materials that are their very livelihood?
The answer, says James D. Yager, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, lies in why students pay to attend university in the first place. What OpenCourseWare offers, he notes, is not the full university experience: “We don’t offer the course for free, we offer the content for free,” Mr. Yager said by telephone in February. “Students take courses because they want interaction with faculty, they want interaction with one another. Those things are not available on O.C.W.
“O.C.W. is just the publishing of the content,” he said.
Moreover, O.C.W. offers no accreditation and no degree, although that may soon change. Before Utah State ran short of funds, Mr. Jensen worked on a project to certify students who passed examinations after completing O.C.W. courses.
If just 1 percent of the 50,000 unique monthly visitors to the Utah State OpenCourseWare site had paid a $50 exam fee, the OpenCourseWare program could have been sustainable, he said.