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Monday, November 07, 2005

Curricula by Google

Through the tentacles of the blogosphere, I have met a fellow chemist Mark Ott at Jackson Community College. He has been screencasting some material on general chemistry and we have had a chance to compare our experience. He likes to create short Flash segments to augment his class that he records without an audience. My current approach is to screencast the entire lecture so that the whole course can be experienced remotely.

Even though we differ in exactly how we implement screencasting, we agree that our material should be openly accessible and welcome that others use it (with attribution). This create the interesting situation where we both cover the same material in different ways. For example, here is my way and Mark's way of teaching Lewis structures. All of our students benefit from this.

Mark has also started a blog for his class. With Michelle Francl's quantum chemistry blog and screencast/podcast, Berkeley's webcasts, Woodman's tutorials, Claremont's pre-lectures and my Organic I and III we are actually developing a robust and redundant collection of high quality university level chemistry lectures that are available to anyone. And this does not include all the material that is just audio or text.

We are approaching a time when anyone will be able to learn anything by turning a Google search into a curriculum of course lectures and self-grading assignments. It seems that this bottom-up approach of educators acting independently and without a common format is moving faster than coordinated efforts such as MIT OpenCourseware or World Lecture Hall.

Of course students will still have to pay to get credit.


  • This movement is picking up steam. What we are doing is a logical extension of what is going on in the information revolution. Fewer and fewer people are getting their news from newspaper and television, which cost money. More of us are getting our information from the internet, which is ‘free’. Why is that? Mostly because it is targeted information gathering. I don’t have to sit through the evening news (on their time) and wait for the 1 or 2 stories that I might find interesting when I can go do a Google news search and read an associate article on my own time, even do more research on it. Read on it from the other side, post a blog article on it…
    Why should higher education be any different? Can’t I (freely) go and learn about ancient Rome, how to build house, or the rise and fall of communism right now? Why restrict the content of chemistry as well? Thousands of chemistry related tutorials, quizzes, and other online help exist out there already, why not the lectures?
    Jean-Claude has a good point. If the students want ‘credit’ for the class, they will have to pay for it. Fine, great. What is the harm in making my lectures publicly available for the universe to see? Am I really so high and mighty that I know the best way to teach things and I am not open to critique? No. I hope to find someone who teaches a similar class and will us my screencasts to augment their lecture. I hope they make their own screencasts and let my students watch theirs as well. A ‘sister’ class at another university (maybe in a different country?) would be fantastic. Fostering interaction between students in different classes with different backgrounds and cultures? How is that not good? A truly ‘world’ classroom. The mind reels at the possibilities.
    The technology is there and is very easy to use. We are in the business of facilitating learning in the student. Should we not give them every possible opportunity to learn?

    By Blogger Doc Ott, at 6:37 AM  

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