Free Education for the Sake of Educating: A Novel Concept -- An Observation of Open Source Courses

There is much too admire in the concept of open source courses, or free, online college-level classes.  In its creation, university was developed by western society for the betterment of civilization through the promotion of ideas and creativity and passing that knowledge down to future generations.  Today’s usage of university feels much more like a business and the student’s needed footwork for obtaining a lucrative career (not that there is everything necessarily wrong with that aim).  But open source courses are specifically designed for people to learn, for free, and with no purpose other than gaining knowledge passed down from those already educated.  Students in open source classes are not working toward a degree, they are just interested in learning.  That earnestness for education is admirable and with that, I perused Open Culture’s free online courses.


As a Social Studies teacher, and a History major, I was interested in taking part in an open source History course.  Yale University offers many courses in an open source format through a program called Open Yale.  Again, these courses are not offered for a student to obtain a degree and they are not meant to replace a Yale education, but they are free and hold the same content.  They are offered for people to conveniently further their knowledge in a variety of topics.  I chose Open Yale’s HIST 251 course: Early Modern England.  It’s been nearly a decade since I took part in an undergraduate History course.  During my education, History professors always lectured with an extensive list of notes before them and expected students to keep up with the content.  Simple, and boring for those who didn’t have an intrinsic desire to learn more History.  In some ways, it was refreshing, and unsurprising, to see that things have not changed.   Dr. Keith E. Wrightson’s class is delivered through simple lectures.  However, let’s explore the clear advantages of the open source aspects of his course.


An Open Yale student (I’ll go ahead and call myself that) can choose which lectures, or sessions, to watch in whatever order is desired.  The course offers 25 sessions and there is no need to view all of them, just find which interests the most.  Also, each lecture is viewable to stream from Open Yale’s website or from iTunes.  The lecture can also be listened to as simple audio from iTunes.  Both of these iTunes options allow for extreme convenience.  One can watch a lecture on their phone, while on the treadmill, or can listen to the lecture while driving to work.  Each lecture also comes with a transcript, so a student no longer needs to keep up with taking notes while the professor talks away.  Instead a student can sit with the transcript, listening and highlighting important points.  The convenience and opportunity is exciting for a former History student to brush up or expand his knowledge without enrolling back into school.


It’s a tremendous feature of our Internet-based society and a commendable aspect of some universities today to offer free courses.  It is an important reminder that students of open source classes are not working toward any degree or certificate.  However it is a clear reminder of the original purpose of universities and education in general.


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