In the last twenty years, open source technology has revolutionized our lives. We’ve seen open web servers (Apache), open web browsers (Firefox), open office suites (OpenOffice.org), open course management systems (Moodle), open mobile applications (Android), open encyclopedias (Wikipedia), and open textbooks (Flat World Knowledge). Even Google Maps is updated by volunteer cartographers. It makes one wonder what might come next. How about a 100% free and open online university? Einstein University’s mission is to take OER to the next level by allowing individuals an opportunity to use these resources to earn college credit. The idea behind Einstein University is simple: instead of a company creating the course material, all of its content is created collaboratively, and instead of paid professors facilitating the courses, all of its faculty members are volunteers.
At Einstein University there is no set schedule and volunteer professors are not assigned to particular courses. All they have to do to maintain volunteer faculty status is to earn a certain number of points each quarter. They can earn these points by editing an open textbook, answering a student’s question, uploading a seminar or lecture, or submitting a test question. When and how volunteer professors decide to earn their points is totally up to them.
Instead of charging students tuition, Einstein University funds itself through ad revenue. Wikipedia, which is built on the same software, provides an example. Wikipedia is the 8th most visited website, yet has only 35 employees. That’s about one employee for every eight million users. The reason Wikipedia has so few employees is because they have over 90,000 volunteers. Wikipedia doesn’t advertise, mainly because they don’t need to, but if they did they could potentially make millions of dollars in ad revenue. If Einstein University can one day reach the same level of visitors as Wikipedia, it will be able to sustain itself, even if it needs ten times as many employees.
Einstein University creates a new platform for professors to volunteer and gives them a place to create their open content. It takes an interactive approach to open textbooks. Each open textbook has its own section for a chat room, discussion board, news, journals, seminars, lectures, papers, research groups, data and web resources. The university also doubles as an academic social network where students and professors can share ideas, collaborate on research, and read each other’s papers.
Einstein University’s plan for accreditation is called the E=mc² Initiative. It hopes to one day offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees online for free, but is starting off simple. Its goal is to offer a 2-year Associate Arts degree in 25 different languages and apply for accreditation in some of the main countries that speak those languages. If successful, this would make higher education free for millions of people in the developing world who lack access to it. At the moment the university has little content, but over the next year it hopes volunteer professors will begin to add it.