03 May 2012

Get ALL the Free Online Education!

If you read my Twitters, you'll know that today I have my phone call meeting with my editor to go over the short story OLD HABITS and get it ready for the next (and hopefully final) rewrite. OLD HABITS (no link to page yet) will go on sale the week of May 15th, so keep an eye out for it on the RENEGADE DATA CORE website.

While that's in the works, I would like to draw everyone's attention to a new phenomenom I find really cool: FREE ONLINE EDUCATION.

That's right, I said FREE ONLINE EDUCATION.

Why write about it, you may ask, when I'm a sci-fi writer? As a sci-fi writer I have a very hopeful vision for the future, and champion companies such as SpaceX and Planetary Resources that are trying to make a future in space not only possible, but cost effecitve.

Free education such as I will discuss is a huge leap into the future, providing education on numerous subjects at zero (or perhaps, in some cases, a very low) cost. The subjects our children need to be successful in the future-engineering, math, science, and technology-are available for all to participate in.

Robert A. Heinlein would be proud!

The trend setter in this realm is the Khan Academy. The founder, Sal Khan, left his hedge fund manager job to start this amazing experiment. It started with videos on subjects ranging from history to math and everything inbetween. Now there are challenges to help learning, assessments, rankings, a knowledge map, and badges individuals can earn for completing sections.

Others have joined in on free online education, citing the need for more available education to the world and the benefits it will bring. Udacity is a free education start-up that currently offers a few classes in computer science and some robots, such as remote controlled cars. Coursera is a cooperative between Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania with over two dozen free classes in numerous subjects.

In March, MIT created MITx and ran an experimental free online class. 120,000 people signed up for the class, “Circuits and Electronics." Now Harvard and MIT are joining forces to create edX, that will offer numerous free courses starting this Fall 2012. While some people may take these classes at leisure, there will be homework and exams. Those who complete everything and receive a certain grade can obtain certificates from either MIT or Harvard (depending on who supports/teaches the class). MIT will charge a small fee for certificates, and Harvard hasn't decided whether or not they'll charge for certificates.

What are the benefits, one may ask? With access to the internet becoming more widespread every day, people in developing countries that might not be able to afford school-or that don't have formal schools-can use these tools to educate themselves and their children, and badges (in the case of Khan Academy) and certificates can be used to help them get into higher education, or to help them to take the village and resources they have and change it. This free education provides "soft tools", so to speak. You can't touch the concept of math, but this tool has helped the human race advance in everything from acrchitecture to medicine to technology. These soft tools can help others the world over to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities.

Sorry if I sound like a bit of a hippie there...I promise, I'm not.

NOTE: I have a love-hate relationship with math. I'm not very good at it, even after studying for hours/days/weeks until I'm blue in the face. But math helped create my Apple MacBook Air, so I can't totally hate it.

My hopes for free education. While I know that EVERY single course can be free online, and they shouldn't be, I hope they offer some introductory engineering courses. Aeronautical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Architectural Engineering, even Agricultural Engineering intro classes (like sections 101 and 201, and maybe a supplemental class or two, like 102 and 202). I would take those right away. Engineering is one of the key competencies that will be needed and will bring the future to the present quicker via better technology and more efficent, cost effective ways to get into space. Engineering will also allow us to do more in space with the resources there, like colonize/mine the moon, mine asteroids, and colonize other planets/moons.

Hell, what am I saying, Engineering is needed now. It was needed more five and ten years ago.

This makes me look in hindsite at my degree (Political Science; a slacker degree, to be sure) and think, "What the hell was I thinking?" Unfortunately, unless I land several million dollars, I won't be getting an engineering degree anytime soon.

What really inspires and motivates me about this free online education phenomenon? The government had ZERO to do with it. The US Government is already ass backwards on how to effectively leverage the internet (amongst other things), and if they had tried this it would have been a resounding flop (or such is my theory being of the "don't trust big government" mindset; your theory may differ). It was private individuals and private schools. These forward thinking people took it upon themselves to do something better for others. No government mandates. No bureaucratic monstrosities. No one from Congress saying they/their party did better than everyone else/the other party. Free thinking Americans with ideas and a desire to achieve more and do good. It makes me proud to be an American when I witness these sort of things.

Unless you're already a rocket scientist (and have a leg up on me getting to Mars, you bastard!) I would recommend taking some of these free classes, if not just to refresh/expand your knowledge. I know I will.

Until next time...

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