A thought-provoking article on a man who gate-crashed some top tier US university courses as well as here in Canada. This was both politically and personally motivated. The man not only attended lectures and seminars but also got access to networks, direct interaction with professors, and received many of the benefits of a traditional university education bar the accreditation and support.
Attendance at lectures is rarely monitored and it has long been touted as one of the best free entertainment options available, if you choose your lectures wisely. I think I first recall reading about it in Playpower, a book on alternative culture from the early 70s. As the article suggests, it is generally pretty well accepted in many institutions and, as long as it doesn’t harm paying students (in this case I’d guess it was actually beneficial), it is hard to see why anyone would object. It might be a little trickier to get away with attending small tutorials or workshops involving restricted resources (e.g needing logins to university computers), and it would not always be easy to get the accompanying documentation and schedules, but this seems eminently do-able for many courses. I don’t think it scales well – most universities would probably start to institute controls if a large number of non-paying students started to join in, especially if they used up rival resources like handouts or materials, or hog tutor time in ways that harmed others. In some subjects it would not work at all. But it is quite an interesting perspective on openness. Face-to-face can be open too – in fact, it might be the default.
Makes me wonder about closed online courses and open MOOCs. Are we really as open as we claim? I think not so much.