July 31, 2009

YouTube Becomes Major Source For Free Virtual Education

The popular video-sharing site YouTube has become a virtual classroom for colleges and universities in the U.S. offering free online courses on a variety of subjects, AFP reported.

The hub, known as YouTube EDU at youtube.com/edu, includes videotaped lectures from more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities offering free online learning by some of their most distinguished professors.

The celebrated Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) physics professor Walter Lewin is among the thousands of videos on YouTube EDU that have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale make up a few of the other leading institutions of higher education that are now posting videos to YouTube.

With a total of 426 videos, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry offers up a wide range of videos on professional teeth cleaning and care.

While the majority of courses on YouTube EDU are free and not for credit, many schools are now offering online classes that do count towards a degree.

In fact, over 3.9 million students in the U.S. were taking at least one online course in 2007, according to a November 2008 study done for the Sloan Consortium -- a non-profit whose mission is to integrate online education into the mainstream of higher education.

Sloan noted that was a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

But with today's current economy, rising unemployment and higher gasoline costs, demand for online education is expected to grow even more.

However, free knowledge on the Internet is now being offered by other ventures besides colleges and universities.

One such example is Scitable, a website launched by Nature Education that is being called a "collaborative online learning space for science."

Vikram Savkar, publishing director of Nature Education, a division of Britain's Nature Publishing Group, said Scitable is meant to bring education into the 21st century in order to take advantage of all of the tools and technology available today.

He told AFP one of the site's goals is to level the playing field when it comes to science.

"Most countries in the world see developing a trained workforce and research cadre in science as key to their national development. Science impacts nearly everything -- medicine, agriculture, industry -- but access to top quality science information and education is unequally distributed around the world," Savkar said.

He added that in many cases it's expensive and inaccessible.

"One of our major goals with Scitable is to offer very high-quality content and community experts that students anywhere in the world can turn to," said Savkar.

Since launching in January, Scitable now has users in more than 85 countries tapping into its library of content, joining its community of faculty and students or using its various learning tools.

He said the site is about collaborating to teach and learn, rather than just being social networking for purely social purposes.

Scitable is currently devoted entirely to the field of genetics, but plans to phase in content on cell and molecular biology, drug discovery, biotechnology and neuroscience in the near future.

"Eventually we'll touch on chemistry and physics. We'll develop modules on environmental science and ecology," Savkar said.

Nature hopes Scitable will eventually be financially self-sustaining through advertising, sponsorship and premium offerings such as tutoring and career placement services.

But Savkar said they're giving themselves a good four or five years to reach those goals.


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