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Alumni Connection

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OOPS Is No Mistake
Translating 900 OCW courses into Chinese

To hear Luc Chu tell it, the open-source movement really started with Confucius, who sagely noted around 500 B.C.E. that “people hate to see resources lying idle.” The 29-year-old Chu took the adage to heart when he came upon the vast ocean of resources that is MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

“The cumulative knowledge of OCW is staggering,” says Chu. “‘What a gift to the world’ was my first thought.” Chu, a professional translator who had just finished a successful and profitable translation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into Chinese, was looking for a new project when Confucian logic took hold. “I realized if I could translate OCW, I could bring a tremendous resource to the Chinese-speaking world.” But to translate the content of more than 900 MIT courses, including videotaped class lectures…well, let’s say Chu knew this was not a one-man job.

Enter alumnus Frank Liu ’66, a retired venture capitalist, who had experience putting together complex enterprises. Together he and Chu began to devise a plan of attack. Chu had already decided his best hope was to employ the open-source model used in software development.

“Open source allows us to scale up for a project of this size, yet it keeps our resource needs low,” explains Liu, a former chair of the MIT Alumni Association of Taiwan and current director of the MIT Enterprise Forum Board. The more Chu and Liu talked, the more they realized they were creating a movement that had serious historical implications.

“This is not an economic project,” points out Liu. “OCW is not available for resale. It’s a project to bring knowledge to parts of the world that would normally not have this access.” They decided to name their new venture the Opensource Opencourseware Prototype System (OOPS). “We needed to build in a number of levels of checks to ensure the accuracy of the information,” says Chu. “We also needed validation from experts in the field.”

Liu began to create an advisory board for OOPS, and in a little more than six weeks he assembled a who’s who of Taiwanese leaders in science, technology, edu­cation, and business. Chaired by Chi-Yuan Lin, PhD ’68, chairman of Taipei Bank, the OOPS board includes Taiwan’s former minister of education, Oliver Tseng, former president of Tsinghua University David C. L. Liu, ScD ’62, and Chao-Shiuan Liu, president of Soo Chow University and former deputy premier of the Republic of China. The 19-member board also includes experts in publishing, television, electronic media, and the computer industry and four MIT alums.

OOPS is built on volunteers, specifically translators, reviewers, editors, multiple levels of readers, and experts in the individual disciplines. Volunteers are asked to commit to just two months of part-time work “We have over 636 translators currently working on approximately 738 courses,” says Liu. “Seventeen courses are fully translated, with 69 nearing completion.” Amazingly, OOPS has accomplished this in just eight months, working off a total budget of a mere $3,000.

But where do you start when translating 900 courses? “We created an online voting system among volunteer translators to determine which courses were translated first,” says Chu. “It’s critical that translators feel a sense of ownership, so we thought it important that they have a voice in how we proceed.”

The OOPS approach has not gone unnoticed back at MIT. Administrators of the OCW project are watching OOPS closely to see if it does indeed continue to grow. “We are excited that the Chinese translations of OCW will enable many more people to benefit from our faculty’s work,” says Anne Margulies, the executive director of OpenCourseWare. “We’re particularly intrigued with the OOPS model. If successful, it could potentially be replicated for other languages as well.”

While OOPS is still in startup mode, it is already attracting an average of 6,500 users a day, making it the most active OCW site outside of MIT. “It is a big project, with a long way to go,” Liu points out. “Our next goal is to increase the number of translators, and my hope is to appeal to the MIT community.” Liu says MIT’s Chinese-speaking alumni, with their scientific and technical backgrounds, would be ideal translators. “We feel like OOPS is an important project that could make quite an impact for nations large and small,” says Liu. “MIT has given a great gift to the world. It’s our intent to make sure this gift is utilized to its potential.”

No doubt Confucius would approve.

IC and You
Login now

One of the best ways to stay connected to the Institute and the MIT alumni community is to register for an Infinite Connection account. The Infinite Connection is the suite of Web-based services offered by the Alumni Association, which includes the Online Alumni Directory, E-mail Forwarding for Life (with spam protection), alumni job listings, access to e-newsletters from the Alumni Association, and much more. It’s free for all alumni and easy to register. If you haven’t signed up for an account, now is a great time. Visit alum.mit.edu/as and click the Online Services link for more information and to register for your free Infinite Connection account. Please note that beginning in March, registered users will be able to cast their votes for their National Selection Committee nominations by using our secure online ballot.

Tech Day 2005
Bio revolution

Tech Reunions 2005 is just around the corner, and with a weekend full of exciting events, don’t forget about the annual Tech Day program at Kresge Auditorium and the luncheon at the Johnson Athletic Center. This year’s Tech Day program, “Bioengineering at MIT: Building bridges between the sciences, engineering, and health care,” will explore some of the latest research being undertaken at the Institute. Not only will you have a glimpse into research that was barely imaginable just a generation ago, but you will see why MIT is uniquely situated for this kind of revolution. MIT faculty specializing in multiple areas of bioengineering will provide an overview of the origins of the discipline and present some of the key projects being undertaken at the Institute. The program will then shift to focus on the cutting-edge work being done by faculty members at MIT, as well as offer an insightful look at MIT’s involvement in health-care delivery. For more information, visit our Web page at alum.mit.edu/reunions.

UPOP Mock Interviews
Coaching without the whistle

For students looking to hone their interviewing skills and make a few contacts, there’s no better place than the mock interview sessions sponsored by the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program. With the aid of alumni and business leaders, students get prime-time interview coaching as they prepare for summer internships and life beyond the Infinite Corridor.

“The students love this,” says Chris Resto ’99, director of UPOP. “They’re better prepared and more confident for when it comes time to interview for real. But we try to make it as real as possible.”
Alumni participate by conducting the interviews with students, coaching them on their technique, presence, and confidence levels. The interviews are held each year in the fall and early spring. This past November, 20 alumni interviewed more than 80 students in the UPOP offices on campus. Among the alumni who participated were Stever Robbins ’86 of Leadership Decisionworks, Matt Lennon ’99 of Teradyne, and Jennifer Pinson ’98 of GE Aircraft Engines.

Students typically supply UPOP with descriptions of their career interests in advance and are then matched with interviewers employed in related fields. It’s also not uncommon that these sessions will lead to direct placements—though that’s something the students certainly don’t take for granted.
Not all the interviewees put their best foot forward. Says Resto, “It’s safe to bomb here. This is first and foremost an educational event.”

Robbins, a leadership and executive coach, says that part of the enjoyment in interviewing students as an alumnus is the chance to be back on campus and to interact with students. “Helping students learn to cope with the real world is a large part of what this program is all about,” he says. It’s an opportunity to help prevent them from making the same mistakes that we made when we were here.”

UPOP is always looking for alumni volunteers (teleconferencing is available). For more information, contact Chris Resto at (617) 452-5104 or visit the UPOP website at web.mit.edu/engineering/upop/.

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