Aggregating Knowledge: Free Online Educational Resources

Aggregating Knowledge: Free Online Educational Resources

Mike Tyson
Mar 9, 2011

As Unplggd continues to grow in readership and contributors, we're constantly looking to broaden our scope of reporting by searching for new ways of creating and collecting content which is unavailable elsewhere on the internet. Our newest idea took us right back to one of the pivotal feature of the Internet itself: the democratization of information. More specifically, we were interested in the abundance of high quality educational information which is available for free and is accessible by anyone. And so every month, starting today, we will post a select group of websites that provide meaningful and diverse content for anyone to enjoy, all for free.

We're calling it: Aggregating Knowledge. The topics will be broad and cover just about everything from technology, science, and math, to the humanities such as art, design, and architecture, or even applied sources like carpentry. Some sites by their very nature will cover many subjects while others might be highly specialized. Some might be text-based and others could be visual (images/videos). But all must fit the criterion of being free and containing well presented, high-caliber content. So without further ado, let's get started!

Defined as a "not-for-profit art history textbook", Smarthistory is a stellar example of how to provide a wealth of information in an accessible and beautiful manner. Smarthistory's approach is to feature both movements, singular artworks, and artists, by assembling a group of scholars and having an open and frank dialogue which is found on the various videos throughout the site. There is a written component which accompanies the videos to help further clarify the subject. Additionally on the right-hand side of every article, there is a map which places the subject in our world, as well relevant links and even Flickr results for more imagery to help further propel your investigation. Funded in part by the Kress Foundation, Smarthistory also just finished a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for 100 more videos to add to their database. We are anxiously waiting to see this viable source of art education continue to grow.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an enormous database of videos on their website for free consumption. We'll begin with OpenCourseWareNot which features actual recordings of classes from all departments. So, not only is the subject matter very broad (you can quickly hop from a class on Thermodynamics and Kinetics to Philosophy of Film) but the quality of teaching and material is, needless to say, highly advanced. We're currently attempting to pace ourselves through a lecture on the Hofstadter book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. MIT World on the other hand, provides videos of lectures and conferences that occur at MIT which feature popular speakers and, as the site states it, are of public significance. The video bank on MIT World is full of more than 800 videos and is ever growing. Lastly, if you're intersted in viewing some of these videos easily on the go, you should be sure to check out MIT's OpenCourseWare App for the iPhone. (Free of charge, of course.)

There are dozens of websites dedicated to categorizing and arranging meaningful quotes from throughout human history. There are also countless Tumblrs in existence, most of which simply tend to recapitulate imagery from elsewhere. One blog, however, is able to harness the power of both these items and create a website that is at once beautiful to see, and highly informative. Quote Vadis is unique approach to providing famous quotations. Rather than flatly present the quoted line, as does more typical websites, QV provides the quote, beautifully formatted, with an image related to the speaker, and contextualizes the quote, giving a brief bio and list of accomplishments of the individual. The quotes range from meaningful reflections to more quirky remarks. The modest updates make this site easily readable without being overbearing.

Hopefully these three sites will be a good representation of the quality, style, and range of information we're hoping to highlight in this column. If you have any recommendations or requests for future sites to be featured, please feel free to let us know in the comments!

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