29 November 2006

OOPS - They Did It Again

I've written about the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative several times. It began at MIT, but is now spreading as other institutions make their courses freely available. However, most of this material is in English, and part of the point of open courseware is for people all over the world to have access. That means it needs to be translated, and what better way than to do it via a kind of open translation process?

That's pretty much what the Opensource Opencourseware Prototype System (OOPS) does:

This site invites volunteers to help transcribe many available Open Educational Resources (OER) video lectures into English. The OERs included in this site are from MIT OCW and many other insitutions. You don't need to be able to speak Chinese to help. Everyone who can understand and type English is encouraged to participate.

The man behind OOPS is Lucifer Chu:

In 2003, Chu, known for translating J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into Chinese, read an article in Wired magazine that described Asian students trying to use MIT’s OCW.

"I was deeply touched," he says. "After I read the article, I thought, what if?" Chu quit his job at a publishing house and founded the OOPS project to translate MIT’s OCW site for Chinese-speaking people.

He was able to do this because of an rather daring gamble:

His life was set to change in the late 1990s, when he first began reading the English editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings. On hearing that a movie version of Tolkien's trilogy was in the pipeline, Chu approached a local publisher and offered to translate the works into Chinese for a minimal fee.

The deal was that if the translated works sold less than 10,000 boxed-sets, or 40,000 individual copies, Chu would donate his translation services for free. If, however, sales surpassed the 10,000 mark he would receive 9 percent of the retail value of each book.

It was a gamble, but within weeks of the release of the first of director Peter Jackson's big-screen trilogy in December, 2001, Chu's translation had become a national bestseller.

The number of boxed-sets sold in Taiwan to date stands somewhere in the region of 220,000 and Chu is now worth in excess of a cool NT$27million.

Now his team of some 700 translators have moved on from the original MIT material and started work on that released by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A classic story of a do-gooder made good? Maybe, but not everyone is happy with his efforts:

A group known as COER, or China Open Education Resources, which is a paid fulltime crew of university professors and intellectuals in China working on translating MIT courses, have let Chu know that OOPS's volunteers are undermining their work.

Don't you just love human nature? (Via Open Access News.)

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