The Techonomy Conference in California in August 2010 had seen two very interesting prophesies from two stalwarts of technology regarding its impact on education.

First it was Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of MIT's Media lab as well as the One-Laptop-per-Child Association, who said that no matter how difficult it would be for some to accept the fact, the future of the physical book was doomed. And then, of course, Bill Gates famously predicted that in five years' time one would be able to find the best lectures online for free and that it would be difficult for any single university to beat that. While Gates' prediction might take some more time to be realized in entirety, a recent report in The Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that Washington State's plans for two-year courses in its community colleges would definitely take us a few steps closer towards achieving Negroponte's vision of the future. Interestingly, if achieved, it would be largely due to a $750,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Chronicle reports that the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges is using the grant to develop low-cost, online instructional materials for students in these colleges, which would be clubbed under the nomenclature 'Open Course Library'. Teams of community-college instructors, librarians, and web designers from around the state are already collaborating on creating ready-to-use digital course modules for the online texts in 81 highest-enrolled courses. The first 43 courses are likely to be tested in classrooms beginning this month.

The content for the material is being created by faculty designers, who are experts in the respective subjects by rights of knowledge and teaching experience. They can use material from anywhere and anyone, as long as they do not compromise on licensing agreements. Instructors in the colleges will use and revise the material as appropriate when they customize the course for their own students.

However, the initial proposal of a $30 cap on the cost of these materials is proving to be a challenge for many, as is the fact that course-ware available online for free is often inadequate, culturally outdated or bound by complex licensing rules that make it difficult to assemble content from multiple sources and blend into one.