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Free College, Beware the wrath of Zeus

“If my typical man wishes to live fully and completely he must, in his
mind, arrange a day within a day.  And this inner day, a Chinese box in
a larger Chinese box, must begin at 6 p.m. and end at 10 a.m. It is a
day of sixteen hours; and during all these sixteen hours he has nothing
whatever to do but cultivate his body and his soul and his fellow men.
During those sixteen hours he is free; he is not a wage-earner; he is
not preoccupied with monetary cares; he is just as good as a man with a
private income.  This must be his attitude.”  A. Bennett

Ever wanted to become a nuclear physicist? Or take that one course offered junior year, but couldn’t fit it in with the butt load of courses already in your major? Need to learn some new rhetorical skills to debate with some honky online or in a bar? Or, maybe you just have a growing interest in something that sparked your fancy in the news?

Well good, because MIT offers their courses, class notes, homework and tests online for free and open to the public. Of course, they don’t offer credit, but this is a find, nonetheless.  Similar to the Feynmann lectures on physics, class lectures for courses are offered in videos, making access to the material all that much easier.  Study packets offer PDFs of the lecture notes and slides and problem sets to test your mettle.  A person would still have to buy the texts to study from, but it is often possible to collect the same information from online sources as well, such as google books or project Gutenberg.  Having done this myself, it can be troublesome to find exactly what you need, though.  However, for a serious student in search of enlightenment, there is always amazon’s speedy UPS delivery of a cheaply priced used text.

Not only MIT, but many universities have begun offering similar online programs as well as.  This is a trend that is only beginning, as most universities have also incorporated some form of online program in conjunction with ‘brick and mortar’ coursework.  Online discussion groups are an often used system to incorporate new ideas and group-think solutions to problem sets.

The internet offers plenty of other opportunities for self study as well.  Take for example, the Khan academy, which offers tutorial videos on math and science topics from grade school on through college.  K-12 series has problem sets that can be worked out while listening to a lesson.  The problems can be broken down piecemeal in a stepwise format if the material becomes tricky.  Additionally, success and hard work are rewarded beyond personal achievement by winning merit badges, with a system similar to that used in scouting.

The Khan academy is the brain child of Salman Khan, whose wish is to: “provid(e) a high quality education to anyone, anywhere.”  One of the cool innovations is not just using the ‘you tube’  style format, but students and educators alike can use the website to monitor performance and find areas of weak understanding  by charted classroom data.  This goes a step beyond the old fashioned grade cards of yesteryear and implements  better what the controversial No Child Left Behind Act had originally intended: to provide real feedback on student progress.  Clearly, this has implications not only for home schooling, but also for education as a whole, as this method allows personalized access to students performance. Technology has changed the way we communicate and so too must it change the way we teach.  Open, free access to information and materials has become a pedestal of the ‘new learning’ and has enabled those away from educational institutions to continue their education.  

For work related experience, the internet can also be an instructional tool.  This used to be nearly entirely the domain of those offering certificates in IT management or Microsoft products, yet this is not the case anymore.  Consider Protocols online, a website devoted to documenting protocols and procedures of lab techniques, which has a large reservoir of articles detailing general lab procedures in life sciences.  Many of the techniques detailed are now commonplace in today’s modern labs, such as western blotting, electrophoresis and H&E staining, just to name a few.  As with any wiki, it wouldn’t be advisable to use it as your only source of information, but it could be used as a good source of quick information to direct further searches.  Having all the information in an easy to search, easily accessible area reduces the time needed to do research and planning and can streamline preparation time.

Today, every one of us can steal fire from the gods.  Scream it loud from the tops of the highest buildings in the city: “I am Promethius!”

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