Infographic: Open Source Textbooks

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a supporter of open source books? Who knew!?

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13 Ways the Internet is Making Us Smarter

Image of a man with a "networked" brain

David Weinberger published a piece on Huffington Post a few days ago about 13 Ways the Internet is Making Us Smarter.

The entire article is worth a read, but here are a few points I found particularly thought-provoking:

Linearity of the Book Limits the Reader (But Empowers the Author?)

“Books have favored long-form, sequential chains of thought that lead readers to the author’s conclusion. That’s one useful way of thinking, but it reflects the limitations of paper. The author has to try to keep us on the bus rather than letting us explore more widely because paper knowledge is hard to traverse. The author has to anticipate objections, rather than entering into real-time conversation with readers, because paper knowledge is only made public once it’s done. And it has given us the overly-simplistic idea that a world as complex and chaotic as ours ultimately reduces to long, knowable sequences of logic.”

I’ve thought for a long time now that the hyperlinked and “webbed” nature of the internet is a much closer model to the way we think than the linear form of the book. We think in a messy, jumbled fashion that’s characterized by random connections and associations.

But while the internet itself more closely resembles the way we think, is it the best way to formulate a strong argument to present to others? Maybe it’s the technical writer coming out in me, but I really value a clear, concise, linear argument–one that lets me know exactly what the author is trying to make me understand or see.

A sentence may be made up of a string of independent words. But those words only make sense if you string them in a particular order. If you change the order, you change the meaning (or worse–lose ALL meaning).
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Udemy – Academy of You

I came across Udemy after following a link on Facebook from a girl I went to undergrad with: Official Udemy Instructor Course by Kristina Ashley Bjoran.  Kristina’s video is the first in a series on how to create courses on Udemy. (I tried to embed the video file into the post but wasn’t able to for some reason.)

Udemy: Academy of You is an online learning site, and their goal–according to their About page–is to “disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online.”  It’s kind of like lynda.com with a social networking element: anyone can produce and develop courses and instead of just videos, Udemy also offers videos, powerpoint, pdfs, and other media files.

Udemy offer courses in the following categories:

The videos aren’t as professionally produced as Lynda, and many of the “Academic Courses” are simply recordings of class lectures.  Many of the courses are free, but a number of them do cost a fee, ranging from under $5 to $255.

I like the fact that anyone can upload videos, but it brings up many of the same questions I had while reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence (which suggested a more open publication process within the academy): How do you ensure quality with open source information? Who maintains it? And what are the incentives for creating quality content?

Udemy’s About page indicates that the courses are curated, but by whom? By what standards to they measure quality?  The site boasts that thousands of instructors have uploaded course materials, but with a full-time staff of just 15 men (I found it a little amusing that all the staff, advisors, and investors listed on the site are men), I’m a little confused about how the content is curated. The job descriptions listed for the staff include developers, programmers, engineers, social marketing, public relations, and user experience–but there really isn’t any mention of content analysis, evaluation, or curation.

I do think the site might present some really interesting possibilities for easily hosting materials for students enrolled in a “traditional” classroom. Udemy actually has a separate page marketing their site to instructors already teaching offline courses, explaining why they should use the site (and instructors from MIT, Yale, Standord, and UCLA are taking advantage of this).  Udemy allows you to to embed courses into websites using widgets, which could be useful if you already have a website you manage for your course’s content and don’t want your students to access yet another website for materials.

Note: Just a quick search for “writing” pulled up a pretty limited selection of writing courses–many of which are on grammar, second language issues, and “form writing” (application essays, resumes, employment application statements, 5-paragraph essays, etc.)