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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 29, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 19
Educating Millions at a Time

SPH faculty embrace OpenCourseWare effort to share content

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health likes to think big, and globally. The school is, after all, in the business of saving millions at a time.

So when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology invited the Bloomberg School to join a consortium of institutions that makes course content available for free to everyone via the Web, it was of little surprise that the school signed on.

Today, in addition to the hundreds of degree-seeking students who come to Baltimore each year to enroll in such classes as Refugee Health Care and Biostatistics, millions around the globe can now view the content of those and other courses through the School of Public Health's OpenCourseWare site.

The site, launched in 2004, provides access to the content — syllabus, videos, reading lists, lecture notes, homework assignments, etc. — of the school's most popular courses. In support of the famous celluloid axiom "build it and they will come," hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe have already dropped in to take a look at what the school has to offer. In just one recent month, the site registered more than 124,000 visits from those in the United States, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Singapore, Germany and elsewhere.

This month, Social and Behavioral Aspects of Public Health became the 46th course published on the site, and plans are to double that number within the next few years.

The OpenCourseWare project began at MIT in 2002, and today more than 120 higher education institutions in 16 countries belong to the OpenCourseWare Consortium, whose mission is to advance education and empower people worldwide through free online course content.

James Yager, senior associate dean for academic affairs and the Edyth H. Schoenrich Professor in Preventive Medicine at the School of Public Health, said that OpenCourseWare fits in perfectly with the school's mission and was a logical addition to its distance-learning offerings.

"Public Health is about improving the health and lives of people throughout the world, and we do that through the translational research conducted by our faculty, students and staff, whether they be in nutrition, infectious diseases or another field. But another part of our mission is the dissemination of that knowledge, to make our knowledge as widely available as possible," said Yager, who oversees the OCW effort at the school. "That is what we are doing here with our OpenCourseWare program."

OpenCourseWare pages offer a "snapshot" of the course, including a description of the subject and noncopyrighted materials such as quizzes, slide presentations and lecture notes. The pages are a one-way street, however. The user cannot interact directly with the professor of the course or its students, and, unlike other virtual learning environments, there are no discussion boards or other interactive elements.

Yager said that the School of Public Health's OCW program is not meant to replace degree-granting higher education or for-credit courses but to provide, at no cost, the content that supports an education.

"The distinction to make here is that this is content, not a course," he said. "This is not at all meant to replace a college education, which involves interaction with faculty and other students as part of the total experience."

Yager said that the visitors to the site have been former Johns Hopkins students who live abroad, students and faculty at other schools and self-learners with at least a passing interest in the subjects.

Through testimonials submitted via the site, the school has learned that faculty at other schools have used the online materials to help develop their own courses, and students have used the content to assist them with their own studies or to be inspired to take more public health courses.

Users do not need to register on the site but are only asked to accept conditions of use and complete an optional survey.

The site's most popular pages of late have been History of Public Health, Biostatistics, Statistical Reasoning I, Psychiatric Epidemiology and Understanding Cost-Effectiveness. The list of recently added classes includes Health Across the Life Span; Radiation Terror 101; Impact of Pandemic Influenza on Public Health; and Nutritional Health, Food Production and the Environment.

Yager said that prior to the OCW site's launch, many School of Public Health faculty had already developed online versions of their courses in support of the part-time Internet-based MPH program, making the implementation of the program relatively smooth.

Participation in the program is voluntary. If a faculty member wants to place the content of a course on the site, Yager said, he or she can work with the school's Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology to do so.

Many of the school's faculty have embraced the OCW program and the opportunity to make their work available to the masses.

Karl Broman, an associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics, who posted the content of his Statistics for Laboratory Scientists I course on the OCW site, said, "I'm a big believer in making everything public that comes out of the university. I view it as my role as a faculty member here to help everyone, everywhere."

Yager said that the school makes participating faculty aware of the hits to their pages and any testimonials that mention their courses.

In selling the site to faculty, Yager said he likes to point out that, through OCW, a person's course content and knowledge can reach a worldwide audience more quickly and easily than any textbook can. And the cost to the user couldn't be cheaper.

For more information about OCW, go to For a complete list of participating institutions in the OCW Consortium, go to


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