Open Education

Academic Earth

Leading universities have been taking part in experimental projects to open up certain classes to a virtual audience. In the most well known (to me) of these projects, Academic Earth, the virtual students do not receive college credit, but can watch an entire semester’s worth of lectures from leading universities. The lectures are filmed in a real classroom during an actual semester. The virtual student can study physics at M.I.T., philosophy at Harvard, and French history at Yale. (The French history courses are taught by Dr. John Merriman, a friend to this site’s founder and certainly known to many of the site’s readers as well.) The courses offered at Academic Earth are extensive, free, and let the student watch from anywhere in the world. Some lectures even include supplemental materials like the assigned readings. According to its website, “Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world-class education.” More of these projects have been popping up, one of which I will detail below. But first, an example:

Centralized State and Republic (as part of the lecture series: France Since 1871) – John Merriman


“A bold experiment in distributed education”

I decided to write a post on the topic of open education after reading a New York Times article earlier this week titled “Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course.” The article explains that Stanford University’s computer science department is offering a class on Artificial Intelligence in a virtual classroom. When the New York Times piece ran five days ago, the class already had 58,000 interested students; as of today, that number has jumped to 112,284. There will be two additional classes offered: Introduction to Databases and Machine Learning, both of which have more than 20,000 interested students according to the class websites. The virtual students will watch lectures, have assigned readings and tests, but will receive no class credit. They will, however, be issued a “statement of accomplishment.” Students can interact with the professors, but not directly. Rather, student questions will be aggregated and then the students will vote on which questions should be answered by the professor. The courses’ websites describe their idea as “a bold experiment in distributed education.” According to the A.I. class website, an online study group has already formed for the class on Reddit (a hugely popular social news site), despite the class not beginning until until October 10.

Enthusiasm for Learning

These open education projects bring out so much enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge (as evidenced by that study group) that they are really fun to read about. I simply love the idea that anyone in the world with an internet connection can study engineering at M.I.T. or ethics at Harvard, even if they don’t receive credit…yet (just wait a few years).

Future Post Topics:

  • Research resources (available digitized collections, online tools for collecting and manipulating data)
  • Highlights of current digital projects (visualizing data on maps, data mining records collections)

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