A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: "Where do you want to go next?"
Previous entry: Thoughts on bullying
Wednesday December 19 2007

The invaluable Instapundit links to the New York Times, concerning a physic professor called Walter:

Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T.  And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.

“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.

Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.

In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics.  Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts of.

image

He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.

Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.

I have always thought that the internet was an open goal for not-for-profit educational and propaganda organisations.  Well, once I understood the internet I did.  I mean, if you were a financial contributor to M.I.T., wouldn’t this be just the kind of thing you’d want to see being done with your money?  Giving the knowledge away, and getting a huge response.  Perfect.

There’s a lot of pessimism here in Britain about the future of science education.  This kind of thing might help to turn things around.  As Glenn Reynolds says:

Traditionally, teaching has played second-fiddle to scholarship at many institutions because it can’t get external plaudits. I wonder if online courses will change that.

I hope there’ll be lots more stories of this sort to discover and to link to from here in the months and years to come.