Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Khan’s Academy

During the weekend I watched a TED video that featured the internet educator Salman Khan. Bill Gates is actually the person responsible for spreading the word about Khan’s work by inviting him to TED. Although I have seen the app in Boxee, I did not have time to explore. The TED video was a good introduction to his academy. Last night, I watched a few videos about the housing conundrum and the financial crisis. I learned more about the housing crisis than all the books I have read so far. I could have saved a lot of time by going directly to Khan Academy than borrowing all the books on the subject from the library. Although the books do provide a lot of interesting background, the Khan videos are more like the foundation in understanding the main concepts. I guess one needs both resources to get the complete picture. This includes watching documentaries from PBS or NPR or films.

The documentary ‘Inside Job’ was also a good source on the financial crisis. It confirmed the lessons in the Khan video. Now one can confirm that everything is truly in the Internet. Previously one started to purchase education materials from a company that specializes on teaching courses. For example, I had purchased about 5 DVD sets on complexity theory, chaos theory, creative masterpieces, classics of modern literature, writing sentences and critical thinking. Perhaps these purchase cost a total of about US $ 500 dollars. One does not dispute the quality of these DVDs because these are real university lectures from well-known lecturers and professors. The courses are usually 40 or so hours each. On the other hand, the Khan lectures are micro videos of about 9-10 minutes each. Good length of time for today’s attention deficit age. It’s also a good challenge to keep lessons brief by focusing on the main points.

I also found some online lessons on creative writing. I think it was in the Open Courseware – another app in Boxee. I guess so far my investment in creative writing courses are in books, computer software like Novel Writing and attending workshops. Perhaps my total expenditure is about US $ 400. But more and more free resources are popping up in the Internet. The last event I enjoyed about literature was attending a talk by the author Sue Monk Kidd in the main library last week. She was talking about her book ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ and about the Southern gothic novel. The lecture was free and very educational. Her talk is the best so far compared to past events I attended such as book reading events with Anita Desai, Judy Picoult and Jennifer Niven (“Velva Jean Learns to drive”). These are good events to meet actual writers or novelist and realize these people are not special beings but ordinary hard working folks.

Nowadays one can see author interviews and talks in the internet. I have watched authors speak about their works after reading their books. Authors like E.L.Doctorow, Gillian Tett, Michael Lewis and other writers. One can get almost anything in the web and the latest tools like Boxee or Google TV or YouTube all provide the means to get them. An interesting hybrid is New York Times where one can get their Podcasts in Sony Dash, see their videos in Google TV or go directly to their website and read their articles. There is a consensus forming in my mind about today’s indispensable sources of information. This would include magazines Wired and Vanity Fair (as their web presence doesn’t provide the same level of detail) and New York Times in all it’s manifestation plus the TED lectures and Khan Academy. Other important sites worth going to are the following: The Economist, Financial Times, The Guardian and Washington Post. Also, YouTube as most of the videos are posted here.

So getting an education these days is practically free. Borrowing books, magazines, DVDs and attending free lectures in the library. Afterwards, accessing free content in the Internet. One can even visit art galleries and museums online. All these are free information flowing from print, video and audio sources. Watching good movies from NetFlix and other sites that offer free movies are great as well. But one needs to supplement this input with actual practice. One needs a venue to actually perform and practice new skills. Aside from ones actual work and life experiences, one can also participate in Toastmaster meetings and writing workshops although these events cost some money though not much. Nevertheless, it brings one into actual contact with the local scene – meeting aspiring writers and speakers and other folks with a similar life journey.

This is life in the modern age where a semblance of a future lifestyle is morphing into being. A lifestyle facilitated by new devices like tablets, mobile phones and Internet television. The computer or laptop is dead. Other new devices have not been invented yet perhaps in the same niche as Sony Dash. Revolutionary devices that will facilitate the changing media landscape from the traditional print and media format to new distribution channels that use Internet tools like YouTube. One is late in the game but new income and life opportunities made one able to return to geek status. To be wired into the emerging possibilities. One of the pleasures of today is enjoying the classic Baltimore cop series ‘The Wire’ (borrowed free from the library), watching Internet television, surfing the web via tablet or laptops and learning new things from TED and Khan Academy. But it’s still a passive lifestyle that one must actualize by travel, participating in workshops, writing books and meeting people.

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