Saturday, September 19, 2009

College by Computer

I’m in Paris at the moment. You might wonder why I’m blogging while on holiday, but holidays are not the same for Husband and me as for most other folks. We spend our ‘real’ lives talking and thinking and explaining, so when we go away, we want to do none of those things. So here we are, in the most visited tourist spot in the world (Honest!), and we are doing nothing.

Actually, that’s not true. In the 24 hours we have been here, we did visit a supermarket to buy copious amounts of cheese and wine, and we have watched more pointless TV than either of us has seen in the last month combined. And now Husband is sleeping while I listen to my iPod and read trashy gossip rags.

On our way here we bought a stack of magazines from the airport, and, once I had finished OK, Hello, and InStyle, I was forced to move on to Husband’s reading material, which included decidedly more highbrow fodder. I reluctantly flipped open Popular Science and was slightly horrified to find that there was stuff in there that was... you know… interesting.

Despite my holiday resolution to be an intellectual slacker, I was drawn to one article in particular about online education (It’s in the September 2008 issue, pages 54-59, should you be so inclined to read it yourself). I was interested for two reasons: first, there was nothing else to read, and second, I myself have been an online instructor for various universities for the past four years, so I had a frame of reference.

The article was explaining how the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made a unique move by creating a free online catalogue of almost all of their course lectures whereby the non-MIT worthy (they only accept 12% of applicants, so don’t feel bad) can view real lectures by real geniuses for their own personal edification.

This got me thinking about the educational opportunities available to expatriates in Norway (and anywhere else really). Last week I had a new expat couple in my office asking about master’s programs in English. The trouble is, outside of Oslo, there are not that many. I felt bad sending them away with only a few options that I gathered seemed less than interesting to them.

So what’s a knowledge hungry expat to do?

Go to school from your laptop, that’s what.

I personally have taken a few classes from American universities to brush up on a lackluster skill set, and I can highly recommend it. But there’s a cost for most courses as for-profit schools have until very recently dominated the market. After reading the Popular Science article, I decided to do some digging for some free options. You won’t get credit, but you also won’t have to write a check.

If you’re looking to learn for learning’s sake (or you’re just bored and need some academic stimulation without the hassle of exams), check out some of the sites below. I’ve listed them from most general to most specialized. The first three are especially good as you can access lectures in every subject under the sun from every university, Ivy League to local community college.

YouTube EDU
iTunes U.
Academic Earth
Big Think
MIT Open Course Ware
Google Code University