University powerhouses Harvard and MIT stirred the educational pot recently with the announcement of edX, a collaboration offering online courses from both schools at no charge (and with no credit). But another open-source course site opened last week with a lot less fanfare.
After about a year of beta testing, the National Training and Education Resource (NTER) was launched by the U.S. Department of Energy to offer web-based, interactive courses, completely free. While individuals can go directly to the site to take the self-paced courses, schools and instructors are welcome to use entire courses or selected portions, either alone or in customized mixes with other educational content, again at no charge. NTER even provides free authoring tools to aid instructors.
Right now the 28 courses are mostly on topics related to weatherization and insulation installation, and are intended as either supplementary training for people already working in energy and construction, or for students hoping to enter those fields.
Clearly, NTER’s offerings are hardly on a par with MIT and Harvard, yet its focus on specific training—with 3-D simulations and built-in performance assessments—may provide a useful model for applied higher education. Ultimately, NTER officials envision thousands of free online courses on topics in science, mathematics, engineering, and manufacturing industries.