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Academic Earth: Hulu for Smarties

ScreenHunter_01 May. 26 20.01

I am totally fascinated by this 2.0 manifestation. Academic Earth aggregates lectures from the world’s top professors from universities like Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton.

Want to learn about the beginnings of Computer Science from a Stanford professor? Or walk through the 20th century American Novel with a Yale lecturer? This is most definitely the place. Want to hear Bill Bradley speak at Princeton about Russia’s place in international affairs? Come and take a look.

This is my personal favorite, Thomas Friedman speaking on why the World is Flat. Absolutely brilliant. As a big fan of Zotero, I am also impressed they have a citation function for those who wish to include these lectures in their research.

The bigger question is does this type of aggregation signal a seismic shift in academic propriety? Well, at least according to these professors it does. To think that these individuals would exist outside their relation to their organization would have been uheard of quite some time ago. Yet we have reached a point where structures that buttress individuals (nation>corporation>individual) are being equated to middlemen, unnecessary relics from an undistributed world. Now with the ability to distribute effortlessly and gracefully (and the internet is esssentially a method of distribution), professors see their intellectual content as precisely that. Theirs. No need to filter this through a larger entity.

What does this mean for students and schools?

It is a boon to the individual, whether it be a student or teacher. It is a mechanism for evolution for schools as well. If information + interaction= knowledge and all of these factors can be had online in collaborative learning spaces, then what does the physical construct of school serve? Those leafy grounds, those buildings, those facilities, that maintenance. Why pay overhead when the structure is available digitally?

I used to think that online learning afforded people like me a nice alternative to balancing a desire for education with geographical proximity and cost. Now I see it differently. It is the driving mechanism in the world’s future educational economy. Schools with geography, with proximity are at a disadvantage in the larger global community. I currently study at a prestigious university in the UK with students from Nigeria, China, France, Germany, Singapore from my modest apartment in Princeton, New Jersey. In the evening I watch a lecture by a Princeton professor literally recorded down the street. I am, in effect, the master of my own domain; I drive my own educational betterment.

What a world.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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