Academic Earth

September 15, 2011

Last week, in response to a post about the Great Courses company, Janet pointed out Academic Earth, a site that is new to me. It streams full academic courses from some of the best universities in the United States, all completely free of charge.

There is some very nice material there. Some of their subject areas are thinly populated — only one course on Art & Architecture, for instance, and very little on Religion (sorry, “Religious Studies”) — but there is plenty of selection in subjects like Economics or Computer Science. The courses are not all at an introductory level: a full semester of modern physics with Leonard Susskind would be no laughing matter, I assure you (but how tempting!). If one had the time and energy to follow the lectures, do the readings, and complete the assignments (some of which are provided), one could potentially learn a great deal. From that point of view, it is a pretty amazing resource, and bound to get better.

A problem that I have with video lectures is that I simply don’t have time to sit down and watch them; I prefer audio, to which I can listen in the car, sitting in traffic. Granted, I don’t get as much out of the lectures when I only give them half my attention, but I figure it’s better than nothing. On the other hand, if I were a university student again, with a fair bit of leisure time for study, I can imagine that I would be all over Academic Earth.

Another potential resource of this type is Apple’s awkwardly-named iTunes U. I haven’t spent any time with it, but my impression is that it is based on much the same idea: academic lectures, presentations, etc. for download. Whether it is free or not, I do not know.

I expect that by the time my children are ready for university, we’re going to be drowning in this stuff.

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