Ivy League Curtain Opened

Didn't have the grades or the extracurriculars for Yale? Don't worry.

Now anyone with a computer can attend class at Yale University by accessing "Open Yale Courses" — seven full-semester liberal arts classes available free on Yale's Web site.

The Web site offers video recordings of liberal arts lectures in subjects including philosophy, poetry and astronomy, along with full transcripts, course descriptions, tests and homework.

Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner coordinates the program and envisions high school students, international students and lifelong learners ready to claim an ivy-league-level education.

"I can imagine that 'took courses at Yale' is going to be a line on a lot of people's resumes," said Kleiner.

Embracing the spirit of free sites like YouTube, Yale encourages other universities to reuse and retransmit lectures and materials. Already, universities as far away as Bahrain and India have decided to integrate the "Open Yale Courses" into their curriculums.

Though people may mention the classes on resumes of the future, no credit will be given and no transcripts will be available. And as professor Paul Bloom makes sure to note, none of the homework or tests will be graded by anyone on the Yale faculty.

"If you're a diligent sort, maybe obsessive, you can watch the lectures, take the exams and see how you do," joked Bloom, who taught Introduction to Psychology in front of the cameras during the spring semester of 2006. "I hope they don't send me stuff I'm supposed to grade."

Another professor virtual students can meet is Shelly Kagan, who teaches a philosophy course on death. He is known on campus for sitting cross-legged on his desk to lecture and occasionally vaulting from the desk if inspired.

Kagan, who said teaching is an "intellectual performance," looks forward to teaching a broader audience.

"There's a real limit to how many people can be exposed to the faculty here in the direct one-on-one classroom situation," said Kagan.

Only around 5,300 undergraduates attend Yale, and of more than 19,000 applicants, only 9.6 percent were accepted for the Class of 2011.

"The chance to share the riches of the Yale faculty, I think, is the real opportunity here," said Kagan.

While Yale is not the first to post classes online, it is providing special access by artfully videotaping lectures. Previously, MIT has posted all its classes on its own page of the OpenCourseWare site, but those mostly consist of texts and course work. The OpenCourseWare Consortium hosts materials from more than 100 international organization and higher education institutions.

Both Bloom and Kagan worry over new issues that might arise from posting lectures. Will enrolled Yale students stay in bed in hopes of catching the lecture later in the semester? Will professors be called to task by outsiders for things they may or may not have meant to say during lectures? Those and other questions will unfold as people access the lectures.

"The idea of watching these full classes from beginning to end, all of the materials, all of the lectures — this is the first time," said Bloom. "I don't think anybody really knows what's going to come of it."

Courses are accessible at http://open.yale.edu/courses/