Thursday, December 07, 2006

But what about... Money?

One of the things I want to do in this blog is address some of the potential objections to the idea of implementing OpenCourseWare at the Harvard Extension School. One of those very real objections might take the form of:

Isn't this going to cost the school money?

And, the answer is "yes, it is."

"But not as much as you might think."

Of course, it costs money to produce content for the internet and to get that content out there (filming/recording costs, website design costs, bandwidth, etc.). But, especially for the numerous courses that are being offered as distance education courses, there won't really be that much of an addition in expenses. After all, distance education courses are already producing the content and sending it out on the internet. Aside from some minor increase in bandwidth, the only real difference will be that the course materials would be made available to everyone, not just to enrolled students with password access.

But, one might ask, "Isn't this going to lose money for the school?"

And, the answer is "maybe, but it's hard to tell."

"And, even if it does, it's worth it."

It's possible that someone will take a course online through OpenCourseWare instead of enrolling (and paying) at the Extension School. If that happens, then the Extension School will clearly not be getting that person's tuition. But, that won't happen that often, and it's not really so bad if it does. First of all, people who take courses at the Extension School get a lot more than someone just following along online (increased contact with the professor and a credit or degree at the end), so people wills till want to enroll at the Extension School. Secondly, having course materials online, in addition to generating a lot of goodwill and publicity in general, is a great way to get people to decide to enroll. Finally, and most importantly, at the Extension School (and really at Harvard in general) our goal is not to make money. Making money is incidental; it's necessary so that we can fulfill the larger goal: teaching, disseminating knowledge. (Check out the Extension School statement of its history and purpose.)

So, as long as setting up OpenCourseWare does not cost so much money that it jeopardizes that goal (and it doesn't), it's clearly a great way to fulfill that goal even better!

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