It’s been more than a decade since MIT shook the education world to its core by announcing it would publish most of its course materials to the Internet for free usage by anyone and everyone in the world. Today there is almost no limit to what a person with an Internet connection can learn.
Although hard data is scarce because the environment is still developing, there are many personal stories surfacing of people whose lives have been changed for the better thanks to open education.
What began as the brainchild of one educator has become a worldwide phenomenon, providing more than 150 million free educational lessons to date to people like Mark Halberstadt. Having earned a music degree in 2007, Halberstadt later decided he wanted to become an electrical engineer. The problem was he had “never gotten above a B+ in math.” So over the course of three years, he used the materials posted on the Khan Academy website to learn trigonometry, calculus, and basic math principles he needed to brush up on. After his first year at Temple in 2010, he had a 4.0 GPA, which he credits entirely to the unique and instructive format of Khan Academy.
Entrepreneurs Jean-Ronel Noel and Alex Georges “wanted to create a small revolution in the way of conducting business in Haiti.” Their idea was to outfit the country with solar-powered streetlights. When they discovered a need for some training in electrical engineering, Noel turned to MIT’s OCW website. The knowledge he gained there helped them launch their small business and ultimately bring light to streets in all 10 provinces of Haiti, some of which had never before been artificially lit. In the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake, the business is back to work, providing much-needed employment to 18 technicians and light to thousands of citizens.
Finland high school senior Jonne says that he loves math from the bottom of his “cold, Finnish, Arctic heart,” but he was never good at exams. Using Khan Academy math and physics videos, he has been able to supplement and sometimes even substitute material given to him in class by his teacher who is “sometimes not that good.” The result was grades good enough to get him into the Harvard Class of 2016. During the summer, he plans to study through the algebra, pre-cal, and calculus courses on the Khan site to prepare for his freshman year.
The World Health Organization hopes to cut the percentage of the world’s citizens without sustainable access to clean water in half by 2015. To contribute to this goal, the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands stepped up around 2010 and began publishing its water management course materials for free on the Web. Since that time, universities in South Africa, Pretoria, Curacao, Singapore, Indonesia, and other developing countries have accessed the material and enhanced them for utilization in their respective geographic areas. The result is a collective resource of the world’s top water management knowledge that has the potential to improve millions of lives around the world.
After his father instilled in him a love of engineering at the tender age of 8, Juan Eduardo Leal Lara found himself surfing the Internet for help with his college courses. After finding MIT OpenCourseWare, he kept coming back to study the materials posted there to enhance what he was learning in class at Tecnologico de Monterrey. Ultimately, first-year students at Lara’s university have also benefited from the open education material. Lara helped start a program for students to create projects and practice what they’ve learned, and he based all the material on MIT OCW knowledge.
In 2006, Canadian calculus teacher Darren Kuropatwa posted on his blog about having students build a wiki solution manual together. He found that the collaborative nature of wikis appealed to girls, while the element of a race to solve certain problems interested the boys. At a conference three years later, English teacher Robin Neal of Beaver Country Day School in Massachusetts ran into Kuropatwa and explained to him that Kuropatwa’s informative blog post had inspired him to create his own wiki to educate his students on the poetry of Keats.
Open education success stories are not always grand in scope, or even from recent years, for that matter. In this video, elementary school teacher Tim Lauer of Portland shares a story from 1995 about a young student stung on the foot by a bee. After viewing the bee under a microscope, the students put the pictures on their class webpage. One of the emails they received was from a doctor in Arizona who was a bee expert. He told the class what they had was actually a yellow jacket wasp, not a bee. His email reignited the kids’ desire to know more about bees and wasps, so Mr. Lauer led them through a two-week study on the subject.
At the time Kunle Adejumo was attending Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, the computer lab did not even have Internet access. What computers it did have were so in demand by the school’s 35,000 students, they could only be secured for 20 minutes a week by students signing up for them. Luckily, Adejumo was able to reach MIT’s OpenCourseWare site from his home computer. Because a metallurgical class he was taking had no notes, he found some review questions online from an MIT course and had his teacher answer them, helping him better understand the material.
In 2011, a course taught by Norvig and Thrun called “Online Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” was made freely available. More than 160,000 students in 40 languages took advantage of the course, with 23,000 graduating in 190 countries. Many of them left feedback describing how much the course helped them. Lynda says she joined with her daughter to build the daughter’s resume, and ended up studying for hours each week and loving the material. Home-schooled student Jack learned he could handle a collegiate-level course by taking the class. Pedro says he now wants to have a career in the AI field after he graduates as a result of the free class.
The beauty of open education is that the instruction moves as slow as the student desires, or in the case of Sam the second-grader, as fast. His father says that Sam is exceptionally bright and was testing at junior high levels, but all his school could do was offer to move him up to third grade. Even a charter school was ill-equipped to handle his needs. Sam’s dad tried teaching him at nights, but it wasn’t a long-term solution. Now that they’ve found Khan Academy, Sam can challenge himself — soon he’ll finish the calculus class.
This is a cross-post from content partners at onlinecollegecourses.com