As part of my online course, I was asked to explore a couple of sites with freely available educational resources.
The first was the creative commons page for educational resources.
As the site says, it partners with the Open Educational Resources movement, which makes materials available for teaching and learning. The point is that these materials are not copyrighted in the normal way; most of them have Creative Commons copyrights instead, which are much more flexible than standard copyrights and allow for works to be shared much more openly.
The first link on the Creative Commons site was for MIT’s open courseware. I’ve known for a few years about this, and it’s always been exciting for me. I teach computer science (programming), math and philosophy. MIT’s reputation in the area of computer science is one of the best in the world, and I assume it’s no slouch in math or philosophy either. The only concern I’ve had in the past is that, frankly, some of the courses I looked at were way over my students’ heads. I spent a little more time hunting through a course here and there today in my areas of interest. There is a lot more there than there was a few years back, and it’s organized more cleanly too. I found a class or two that had modules I might be able to pick and choose from for classes I teach. Other courses seemed to be more self-contained, only useful when taken as a whole.
The second link was to the Connexions web site. I’d never seen this before, and I like the idea a lot. The point of the site is to provide modules for small chunks of information rather than whole courses. That’s something I could use a lot more than just having a complete text book about a subject. I looked up a couple of modules in math and philosophy. They varied widely in how useful I thought they might be, of course.
Another link on the page that I found interesting was the one to P2PU (Peer to Peer University). I only looked briefly at it, but it had a link to a philosophy course that had as part of its components video lectures on specific topics from various universities. It looked like most of these were available legally for me if I wanted to use them for auxiliary material in my classes.
The second source of openly available material I looked at was College Open Textbooks. I didn’t spend as much time looking at this. It promotes the creation of entire open-source textbooks. For me, the usefulness of a site like this, at this point in its development, is very dependent on the specific topic and course I am thinking of. I’ve had bad experiences with inferior intro to philosophy texts. I really like the anthology I am using now, which has an excellent reputation; I wouldn’t want to go back to something less well-known. On the other hand, programming languages are taught the same way in almost all textbooks, and I don’t think it really matters much which text we use. Unfortunately I didn’t see anything for the specific programming courses I teach when I looked quickly through the lists of what was available. There is a lot more to the site than lists of available textbooks. I am looking forward to seeing how these movements grow in the future. I think we are moving toward an age in which it will be important for scholars to provide as many freely available high-quality sources of information as we can.