In this post, I want to pay tribute to those who have shared their knowledge publicly by posting online tutorials. This medium is a democratizing force for good, and the fact that it’s all given freely makes it all the more brilliant. There are millions out there on youtube, in all fields and subjects. The online tutorial has become an art form. I’ll share a few of my personal favorites:
My institution, the University of North Dakota (UND), has really pioneered the model for Engineering. They use a platform called Tegrity to broadcast the engineering lectures to several hundred undergraduate distance students. The technology is developed to such an extent that the classroom experience for in-class and distance students is virtually the same. Assignments, labs, exams are all identical for both classes of students.
For engineering disciplines, writing on a touch screen is very important. The alternatives don’t really pan out. Several tutorials utilize a piece of paper, chalk-board or a dry-erase board. But the resolution can be poor. The offerings from MIT OpenCourseWare adhere an ancient chalk-board-heavy tradition. While they are very good (I wouldn’t talk down a free MIT education), these lectures generally do not include example problems. Students are free to do problem-sets on their own–but without the right textbook, and the applicable handouts, us online voyeurs feel a little left out. Boo hoo.
The field of online tutorials is shared between recognized academic institutions, for-profit companies and individuals. Each type of contributor makes an important contribution. Schools offer a very rigorous and provide a high-level of education. For-profit companies are often teaching users how to use their products (and demonstrating why we need to buy theirs). Individuals have more flexibility in the tutorials that they offer. Anything goes. Sometimes you need to wade through the garbage for a while to find the hidden gems.
The well-recognized Khan Academy is certainly one of the gems. The fact that one person, Salmon Khan, produced the entirety of these videos will never cease to amaze me. Apparently he was diligently producing the videos by night, working on Wall Street as a hedge fund trader by day. The screen capture technology he uses, the impeccable organization of each segment, and his clear mastery of the subject matter all contribute to making these very impressive tutorials. I won’t even begin to describe the range of subject matter that is covered in these lectures: everything from the Paulson Bailout and venture capital financing to SAT and GMAT prep.
The work of electronics-specialist Jeremy Blum is also very good. He has posted several tutorials on his website dealing with Arduino microcontrollers and other areas of electronics and engineering. Like Salmon Khan, here is clearly another very gifted individual. Here’s an example below:
I also watch a lot of the tutorials provided by Darryl Morrell, whose video is shown at the beginning of this post. Many of his videos are accessible from this website. They cover mainly circuit analysis, signals and systems and mechanics. I shouldn’t forget to mention the Indian Institute of Technology. The amount of knowledge published freely from IIT is absolutely unreal. I should probably make some sort of donation.
Last and definitely not least, I want to pay tribute, nay homage, to Colin Cunningham’s series of Make videos. These are without a doubt some of the most interesting, entertaining and even inspiring videos I’ve seen. See them here. And check this out: