Free Online University Lectures Offer Eclectic Mix

Free Online University Lectures Offer Eclectic Mix

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As we alerted you last year, major Ivy league universities have begun offering lectures — and whole courses — on the Internet for free. It’s called the OpenCourseWare movement and it’s gaining momentum across the world. There’s even a site now where you can browse a collection of online courses from schools like UC Berkeley, MIT, Yale, and Princeton — and click to hear university lectures by the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, all without paying a dollar in tuition…

LectureFox created a gathering of collegiate links to streaming video, audio and documents from around the world. The list is clean, handsome and easy to use. Although they specialize in Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics, click on Faculty-Mix to see a great selection of miscellaneous topics from other departments like electrical engineering, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, history and philosophy.

Interesting titles may catch your eye like, Cosmic Connections, Natures Greatest Puzzles, or Astronomy and Poetry. How about an entire 27-week Psych 107 course captured on video at the University of California, Berkeley, called Buddhist Psychology, which features lectures entitled, The Benefits of Meditation for Mental and Physical Health, The Four Noble Truths, and Magic in Ordinary Life?

LectureFox was launched in January 2007 by German businessman Andreas Petersen and his sister Ellen Petersen. He owns his own Internet publishing business in Hamburg and says it’s all about the joy of learning. I talked with him about why universities are giving away their services for free:

Is there a big increase in the numbers of lectures being offered online
and do you expect this to continue?

Yes. The OpenCourseWare movement started at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002. Now there are many universities jumping onto the bandwagon. During 2007 and in the next years we will see more universities open their digital doors.

A good example: Yale University is producing digital videos of selected undergraduate courses that it will make available for free on the Internet through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (The Hewlett Foundation is committed to partnering with leading universities to make high-quality educational content freely available on the Web.) The project received $755,000 for an 18-month pilot phase to create full transcripts in several languages, syllabi, and other course materials — for seven courses and design a web interface, to be launched in the fall of 2007. If the venture proves successful, Yale hopes to significantly expand its online offerings over the next few years.

Why do you think the schools are offering these courses online for free?

Online lectures are not a substitute for attending a university. There is no feedback from the professor. You cannot get the true spirit of a good university.

I think that big educational institutions like MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, Yale and others, more and more, think in a global perspective. Scientists have always collaborated internationally. With the new possibilities of streaming video and highspeed Internet the time is ripe for sharing education with those who cannot afford university classes. Knowledge is power. It’s humane to share knowledge with people from poor countries. When we share research, pedagogy, and knowledge to benefit others we build a good future for all of us. The catchword is Open Culture.

Additionally the universities possibly attract more international students.

This is a young site fueled by donations and in phase one of its development. The site’s administrator tells me that it will undergo a major overhaul in the near future. For instance, it will be offering RSS feeds that can alert readers to new lectures added in specific categories or overall, so a chemistry fan, for instance, could sign up and be alerted to updates. (I’d like to see professors’ names added to the lecture titles, also.) The site’s Web servers were overloaded recently when a rush of viewers arrived after word of the site was publicized at Digg.com. Just as more people are finding LectureFox, more universities are sharing their wealth of knowledge with the world.

A university student in Nigeria wrote to the MIT OpenCourseWare program to say thanks and explain how the online access had helped him. “I had a course in metallurgical engineerging. I downloaded an MIT course outline on this, and also some review questions and they helped me gain a deeper understainding of the course at my university.”

And Maruf Muqtadir, a student in Bangladesh wrote, “Your OpenCourseWare is an amazing and remarkable step! I am currently a student of computer science at BRAC University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and I have always had a dream to study at MIT, for its unique teaching methods, but for many reasons I am not able to do so. This initiative gives me the opportunity to self-teach myself. I can reach what MIT teaches to their students. To be truthful, I cannot find words to explain how I feel! Kind of unexplainable, like the feeling one feels when someone falls in love!”

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