2005 has been a great year for free educational materials. Universities opened their doors and entrepreneurs saw a market. Free offerings were once the crumbs of ivory towers and publishing houses. Today, open educational materials are rapidly becoming an integral component in marketing and recruitment.
With that in mind, it's time to thank the sites that have done the most to create these materials and make them available. The Stingy Scholar is excited to present the first annual Beggin' and Choosin' Awards (or the BCA's).
Best Textbook: Motion Mountain
Christoph Schiller did a fantastic job of creating a full-length, professional-quality physics textbook and then openly offering it to the community. Motion Mountain is a genuine alternative to crumbling physics textbooks in public schools. It is a fair option for universities that require basic physics but don't want to force grumbling freshman to buy a $160 textbook. Maybe some of the authors writing free educational materials will look at Motion Mountain and say, "I can do that, too." Hey, it was featured on Boing Boing. How many textbooks can say that?
Best eBook Site: Many Books
If it was just a matter of download options - pdf, doc, text, iPod notes, PSP - Many Books wouldn't be the best. If it was just site design, Many Books would be another pretty face. If the archives were skimpy, then Many Books' users wouldn't stay. We are all grateful for sites like Project Gutenberg and The Internet Archive - both sites make sites like this one possible. But Many Books has a near-perfect union of features, interface, and content, raising the bar for free educational materials. And for that they get the gold star.
Best Audiobook Site: LearnOutLoud
LearnOutLoud has become the crossroads, not just for audiobooks, but for free learning on the web. Between their forums, blog, e-magazine, podcast, and educational podcast directory, the folks at LearnOutLoud tirelessly strive to present all of the options for obtaining a free education online. But despite the many formats, the focus is audiobooks and LearnOutLoud doesn't skimp there. LearnOutLoud's free library is not a front to bring in customers, but a genuine service created by people who believe in the value and importance of providing these materials. Here are some of the quality free audio (and video) materials available:
Audiobooks such as Common Sense, Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, Seth Godin’s new title Knock Knock.
Lectures from Thomas Friedman, Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Michael Dell, Noam Chomsky and Jeff Bezos.
Famous historical speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi.
These are just some of the over 500 offerings. Like other BCA winners, LearnOutLoud has raised the bar in their category. Recently, they started to produce their own titles such as versions of Emerson’s Self-Reliance, As a Man Thinketh, poetry, and Wikipedia entries in addition to some helpful articles and tutorials. I hope to see more great things from LearnOutLoud.
Best Podcast(s): NPR
I really wanted to pick a home-brewed podcast for this category. Although I had a couple good candidates in mind, I have to give the award to NPR. The network has always provided high-quality radio programs, and they've made a recent effort to make shows available as podcast feeds. The NPR podcast index now includes thirty shows including Motley Fool and World Cafe. The podcast section of the site also indexes 200 feeds from affiliated networks, with an interface to help you find audio to other popular shows not offered as podcasts, such as Cartalk and All Things Considered.
Best Social Site: Del.icio.us
If you're new to del.icio.us, and can't understand why Yahoo! would purchase such an ugly-looking site, check out this article entitled "What's So Cool About Del.icio.us?". It's not tough to create a bookmark site and, honestly, there are many better ones. But del.icio.us is hackable (check out this library) and del.icio.us has the community. Honestly, isn't that what bookmarking sites are all about? Between tag searches, RSS tag subscriptions, and the del.icio.us popular page I've found many great, free educational sites. Although I grumbled when Yahoo purchased Flickr, I think this acquisition of Del.icio.us can be a good thing. I've enjoyed some of the minor layout tweaks and the improved search performance. So thank you, del.icio.us, for helping me find so many great sites.
Best University: MIT
This category awards the university that has made the greatest effort to open their doors to the world and to make their materials available to everyone. Although several universities have started some sort of podcast or open courseware program this year, MIT was the first and is still, indisputably, the best. To understand the size of MIT's opencourseware program, compare the number of tags hits for each program in the OCW course finder:
Size alone makes the MIT offerings impressive, but the university seals the deal through genuines content and a clean, navigable interface. Each course usually includes the syllabus, class notes, and links along with some downloadable readings, quizzes, and summaries. MIT has also made an efforts to include more lectures as audio and video.
There are other universities that should be recognized for their efforts this year. Stanford iTunes is a cool program and the university has also improved the publicly accessable highwire press free journal search. The University Channel from Princeton makes some great lectures available. Other schools, such as Berkeley are making great strides with their webcasting programs. I wish all these schools would offer more actual courses like Harvards' computer science E-1.
But MIT is still light years ahead of all these other programs. MIT seems truly committed to the concept of open education, and we hope that these other schools will continue to follow their example.