Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Continuing your education

Some of us are at our best as students. It's where we fit in. It's what keeps our brains alive when they're dangerously close to becoming useless mush that spends one day after the next browsing the web for cat pictures.

I'm one of those people, which is why I've decided to start taking classes again. After lots of searching, I figured out that whether you're just curious and want to learn something new, are trying to stay current in your field, or are getting a full-blown degree, when choosing a course, you're going to be looking at cost, commitment, location, accreditation, and quality. Basically.

Because my interests vary, I've chosen a variety of courses--both free and costly, demanding both small and large commitments, some on-ground and some online, some accredited and some unaccredited. All, however, seem to be of a high enough quality for me to bother with. Because of the mix I ended up with, I'm treating this experience like research into the various possible ways of learning classroom-style college-level material these days. Once I've finished a course, I'll post a critique of my experience here on the blog in hopes of giving insight to anyone else who might be considering continuing their education in these ways.

(It's possible you've noticed I'm ignoring one very obvious way a person can learn, which is by reading books, journals, websites, news sources--heck, reading all sorts! I'm ignoring that because some of us aren't very good at that approach and require a more interactive, accountable setting. Some of us need the teacher and the classroom.)

Here are links to the courses I'm taking this fall and my reasons for choosing them:

1. An on-ground TESOL course through the University of Georgia

This course will be followed by three others, which will ultimately lead to a global TESOL certificate, and therefore does cost money. But not a lot, relatively speaking. The certificate will qualify me to teach English to people who speak other languages, either in the States or across the world, so long as it's not in a public school setting. Jonathan and I wanna retire in the next ten years, travel the world, and do small jobs as we go. Teaching English would be a dream. Plus this will help me in teaching class right now. The commitment level is high because I'll earn a certificate and because they meet every Saturday for weeks and weeks. Plus I really want to do well, so that's added pressure. As for quality, the program is through the University of Georgia, so, yes, quality abounds.

2. An online philosophy course through the University of Oxford

This ain't cheap. But it is for credit, it is high on the quality scale, and the credits can be used eventually, if you wish, toward an undergraduate award (i.e. a certificate). The commitment level on this one is pretty high, partly because you wouldn't pay that much for something you were gonna put half the effort into and partly because it's freaking Oxford. The specific course I'm taking is an Intro to Metaphysics. Why? Because I find the subject interesting, I want to expand my knowledge into new areas, and I want a serious challenge. You should see the book. It's very thick and has almost no pictures.

3. An online history course through Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Coursera

This course is FREE! And it's through a top notch university. Coursera has tons of courses through tons of great universities (including the big names like Yale and Princeton), all for free. For most, all the materials you need will be in the online classroom (readings, video lectures, etc.). All you have to do is show up and get involved. The commitment here is as much or as little as you choose. The quality is--well that's what I don't know. These are, for the most part, not for credit (at least the free ones). Like all courses at all schools, some are going to be better than others. Reviewers of these courses say that because it's possible to have hundreds of people taking the class with you, the online interaction can sometimes get diluted with nonsense and gibberish just like the rest of the internet. So: We shall see! I figure since there's no cost besides a little time, it's worth a try.

That's my list. But there are lots of other resources for education. Figure out what you're interested in and go find it. If you want a whole new degree and want to spend the money and time it takes to get there, your approach will be different from mine, especially your level of commitment and cost, but if you just want to dabble, if you're just curious, if you're just ready to learn something new, here are a few more great places giving free online access to quality courses and educational materials:

OpenCourseWare Consortium
"An OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a free and open digital publication of high quality college and university‐level educational materials.  These materials are organized as courses, and often include course planning materials and evaluation tools as well as thematic content. OpenCourseWare are free and openly licensed, accessible to anyone, anytime via the internet."

Khan Academy
"Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. All of the site's resources are available to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge."

"YouTube EDU brings learners and educators together in a global video classroom. On YouTube EDU, you have access to a broad set of educational videos that range from academic lectures to inspirational speeches and everything in between. Come here for quick lessons from top teachers around the world, course lectures from top-tier universities, or inspiring videos to spark your imagination."