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01/31/2007 Archived Entry: "A great use of the web"

A GREAT USE OF THE WEB. There is so much bad news these days. Many of us feel an oppressing sense of dread. The internet, the largest library in the history of mankind, is also the most disorganized and dangerous one, a tool for tyrants and spies to track and trap the unwary. Using the 'net regularly exposes one to the potential of addiction.

Silver here. With all the bad news, itís a very pleasant surprise to be reminded of some of the truly great things happening on the web.

One of the better uses of web technology is MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative. A truly world-class institution of science and engineering, MIT has taken a giant step by placing over 1400 course websites on the web, open to all, for free, under fairly generous terms of use.

Take a peek at 8.01. Physics I to non-MIT students; MIT's tradition of referring to courses, majors, buildings, and rooms by number can be disconcerting to the uninitiated. There are videos of the lectures (including some great demonstrations), assignments, answers, exams, the works. If Physics isn't your thing, there's 18.01 (Calculus), 6.071 (Introduction to Electronics) and about 400 more. There are 1400 OCW websites as many courses are posted more than once, by different faculty who teach them. MIT expects the number to double over the next two years. They even provide help in downloading the streaming video files so that those with low-bandwidth connections can see quality video.

You'll need to buy the texts to attempt the courses. I say attempt because MIT courses are tough, really tough. MIT students are among the brightest, and the work ethic on campus is ferocious. I suspect even the most motivated self-teacher will find it difficult to finish a course in one semester; most MIT undergrads take 4 or 5 at a time. They don't sleep much.

If you read the text, follow the lecture notes, and work out MIT's infamous problem sets on your own, without peeking at the solutions, you'll have learned a great deal. You won't have a degree; you have to get admitted and pay for that bit of paper. You won't have the benefits of working together with other students to solve problems, interaction with faculty, or use of lab facilities. But you will have what every MIT grad takes with them: an understanding of how the world works that will serve you extremely well in any scientific or technical pursuit.

Kudos to MIT for taking a bold step. Other universities offer OCW, but MIT's offering is by far the largest and broadest. It's great to see the internet used in such a positive, empowering fashion.

Thanks to Claire for the pointer to MIT'st OCW and her gentle reminders to blog now and then.

Posted by Silver @ 05:14 AM CST

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