NET NEWS: Microsoft, MIT Power Up Online Education

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Science  15 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5439, pp. 371
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5439.371b

Software giant Microsoft Corp. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last week announced a $25 million agreement to develop ways to use computers in university teaching, for projects ranging from academic publishing to Web museums. The deal has kindled fears that Microsoft may try to conquer the educational software market. But MIT insists that is not the case.

Under the I-Campus plan, as it's called, Microsoft will allot $25 million over 5 years for research on teaching technologies approved by a panel of MIT faculty and Microsoft scientists. The first three projects are: expanding the university's Shakespeare Electronic Archive; teaching graduate classes simultaneously at MIT and in Singapore over the Internet2 research network, starting this fall; and helping aeronautics students and professors collaborate in cyberspace on design projects.

Some observers expressed concerns to The New York Times that Microsoft may be setting out to dominate online teaching the way it does office software. MIT engineering dean Thomas L. Magnanti, however, suggests those fears are unfounded. For one thing, he says, MIT will work with Microsoft Research, rather than the company's product development arm, on all computer types—not just PCs, Microsoft's main platform. And MIT can license the products it develops to other companies and universities. “We intend to share this widely,” Magnanti says. “There is no intent to become a Microsoft shop.” Microsoft, meanwhile, stands to profit from using the university as a “test bed” for ideas, a spokesperson says.

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