NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2010
FREE Online Classes and Lectures from Major Universities
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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I have been teaching college classes at Lamar Institute of Technology (LIT) now for almost 33 years. In my teaching tenure, there have been a lot of technological changes that have impacted education. One such major change is the availability of online courses that can be taken for college credit or for personal enrichment. Every semester for the past several years, I have taught at least one online course, and LIT, as well as colleges and universities all over the world are now offering online courses. It is now very possible to earn legitimate, accredited undergraduate and graduate college degrees online. There are also many additional courses available online from colleges and universities, as well as other non-traditional sources that offer non-credit training for personal enrichment. One online resource that I recently started to integrate into my classes at LIT is Academic Earth (academicearth.org).

Academic Earth offers free online courses and lectures from the professors of such well known universities as Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, University of Michigan, and Yale. These free courses are not offered for academic credit, but are the actual lectures presented by the faculty of those esteemed institutions, and are available in many subjects. Some of the courses are a semester’s worth of lectures sequentially broken down into individual classes, while others are individual lectures on a wide assortment of academic topics. About two dozen subjects are currently available, including Anthropology, AP Test Prep, Architecture, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Studies, History, International Relations, Law, Literature, Mathematics, Media Studies, Medicine, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Pre-Med, Psychology, and Religious Studies. In reviewing many of these subjects, I found the academic level of the content to be appropriate for most college students (after all, they are college lectures), but some content is more appropriate for graduate or professional school students. A user of this service does not have to be a college student, and while online registration for the website is available, I was able to view the lectures and courses without registering.

Many high school students are participating in “AP” or Advanced Placement classes, where successful completion and examination can earn the student college credits. Academic Earth offers free online AP lectures and courses on several topics including Biology, Calculus (A and B), Chemistry, Computer Science A, Computer Science AB, Physics B, Physics C, and Psychology. With the academic potential provided by these recorded lectures and classes, the AP student may have a better chance of earning those coveted AP credits.

I have always enjoyed chemistry, and was enrolled in AP chemistry in high school. As an undergraduate I took a lot of chemistry courses, and even worked for a while as a substitute chemistry teacher in a local high school. I found the Academic Earth online chemistry lectures intriguing. I started with General Chemistry (http://www.academicearth.org/courses/general-chemistry), as taught by Dr. Kristie Boering, of Berkeley. Her series of 42 lectures was a complete semester of lectures on the subject, with each lecture lasting about 45 minutes. It was like I was a student back in college, but I was comfortably sitting at home on my computer. This is an excellent way to learn a new subject, or as a refresher.

One of the courses that I teach each semester at LIT is an economics class. I teach both live classroom classes and web based classes in economics. Now that Academic Earth is available, I am going to recommend that my economics students go to academicearth.org/subjects/economics and watch the lectures on relevant topics. The economics course lectures are presented by faculty from Yale, UCLA, Princeton, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. Some lectures are free-standing individual lectures, while others are in a series of lectures from an entire semester. By watching these lectures and having the ability to “rewind” in order to repeat an item that was not clear the first time, I feel that student mastery of the subject can be increased.

The unheralded strength in the American economy is small businesses. Entrepreneurs create about 70% of all new jobs in our society, and they need all of the help that they can get. My program at LIT teaches courses in small business management every semester, and courses in entrepreneurship are among the most widely taught college classes nationwide, with almost every college teaching some such courses. For those interested in entrepreneurship training either as a practical application to hone skills for an existing small business, or as an academic endeavor, Academic Earth can be a valuable adjunct. By simply going to academicearth.org/subjects/entrepreneurship, the entrepreneur or student can access 129 courses on a variety of small business topics ranging from creativity and innovation, to finance, management, marketing, and product development. With a resource such as this, the entrepreneur or small business student can freely access a wealth of relevant information. In addition to a purely academic and entrepreneurial use, I could see this area of Academic Earth being utilized as a training resource by Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), business incubators, SCORE chapters, and anyone else interested in learning more about small businesses.

With dozens of courses available in medicine (including pre-med), political science, history, literature, religion, and other subjects, there will likely be some courses of interest for almost everybody.

I personally found Academic Earth to be a most valuable resource for academic pursuits, personal interest, and personal enrichment. As more courses and lectures are added to Academic Earth, it will only become an even more valuable resource.

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