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Instead of dismissing social media as distracting or destructive, schools should embrace it as an essential part of the curriculum. Not only does this limit the potential for students to abuse the technology, but it opens a new set of valuable educational tools.
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Richard Ludlow started the nonprofit Academic Earth two years ago after M.I.T.'s OpenCourseWare helped him pass linear algebra as a Yale undergraduate. His site offers the courses of 10 elite universities — 130 full courses and more than 3,500 video lectures. Viewers can turn the tables on professors and grade courses. Other guidance includes "Editor's Picks" and "Playlists," lectures selected around a theme like "First Day of Freshman Year" and "You Are What You Eat."
Daniel Colman is a curator of sorts. He sifts through the vast amount of free courses, movies and books offered online to find what he considers the very best in content and production value. Then he features them on Open Culture, the Web site he founded in 2006. It's a task in keeping with his mission as associate dean and director of Stanford's continuing education program.
Connexions, started at Rice University 10 years ago, debundles education for the D.I.Y. learner. Anyone can write a "module," the term for instructional material that can be a single sentence or 1,000 pages. Connexions hosts more than 16,000 modules that make up almost 1,000 "collections." A collection might be, say, an algebra textbook or statistics course.
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At last count, the site had 2,700 audio and video lectures from more than 25 universities; 268 audio books; and 105 e-books. Dr. Colman says he looks for lectures that "take ideas and make them come to life." And so you can learn 37 languages on Open Culture, or stream Jane Austen audio books, Hitchcock films and a John Hopkins biology lecture.
Why pay for test prep? M.I.T. OpenCourseWare has culled introductory courses in physics, calculus and biology, along with problem sets and labs, to help students prep for the Advanced Placement exams. (Not to miss an opportunity, there’s a link to the admissions office.)