Be it the informative documentaries on the Discovery Channel or the mind-boggling investigations on the National Geographic Channel, contrary to popular beliefs, the television certainly does have some educational value. Despite this, even today, most of the older generations do condemn the television as a means of corruption and wasteful engagement. They attribute little value to television programmes which are considered worthwhile for mere entertainment. One cannot overlook their arguments because most teenagers have a documented propensity to spend more time watching sports, reality TV shows and mindless soap operas. Now, there is a new phenomenon that is turning more heads than the television did. The internet is arguably, the most pervasive form of mass communication. It is true that most of the websites today feature entertainment, sports and other less educational content. However, there is an emerging trend whereby prestigious educational institutes, even like the Ivy League colleges, are uploading lecture videos, lecture notes and other course materials on the internet for anyone who wants to access them.
“OK, we shall start as soon as the cameraman gives us the signal. So, alright then, welcome to the first lecture in course 18.06 on Linear Algebra.” And so the lecture by Prof. Gilbert Strang of the Department of Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology begins. The Open Course Ware section of MIT’s website offers hundreds of courses from all fields like Physics, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics, Management and others. The best part is that anyone who has a computer and internet access can have a taste of what it’s like to study at the world’s most prestigious research institute. And it’s not only MIT that is part of the action, even Stanford University and other institutes are very much part of the phenomenon. Arguably one of the most visited websites on the Internet, even YouTube has come up with a new section called YouTube Edu, dedicated especially to educational lecture videos. Pioneers and brilliant intellects like Prof. Leonard Susskind at Stanford and Prof. Alan Guth of MIT can be seen lecturing on topics like General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in online lectures.
For a student like me who is yet to have a taste of what university lectures are like, this is simply great. I can choose from a wide variety of institutes and then study the pedagogy and method of instruction at a particular college. Also, this trend ensures that people who have limited access to quality education in their home countries can attempt to learn from some the best professors on the planet. Moreover, it’s not only the US universities that are getting into the act, even lectures from the renowned Indian Institutes of Technology can be easily found on sites like YouTube and so an IIT aspirant can gauge how education at IIT really is. This phenomenon has immense potential of growing at a world scale to provide quality education virtually. Perhaps, this is a sign of things to come in the future. Surely the day when a professor from Harvard University can indirectly teach a graduate in Africa is not too distant.