Free Learning: Part two and goodbye

 Features – February 24, 2008Andrew Greene

As promised in the last OnWords column, today we will find exactly where we can access lectures, free books and scholarly articles.

Some of my favorite online talks are by British ethologist and best-selling science author Richard Dawkins. Many of his lectures and speeches are freely found on youtube. I recommend in particular his speech titled Queerer Than We Suppose: The strangeness of science and his readings from his own book The God Delusion.

MIT Physics Professor Walter H. G. Lewin is another lecturer finding online fame. He uses his chin and a metal wrecking ball in a terrifc lecture on pendulums. He leans against a wall, the wrecking ball pulled up to his chin, and releases the ball. The ball swings across the stage to smash into a pane of glass before returning to his chin, stopping just a fraction short of smashing it too. He says to the class, “Physics works! I’m still alive!”

One recent lecture viewer left the message, “He is an amazing professor. The lessons come alive with his enthusiasm and humor. I wish the teachers in my schools had been more like this.” I completely agree, watching his lectures makes me want to go back to school.

A great site with a complete collection of learning materials and lectures is the BBC Learning site at You can learn anything from Art and Design to Food and Catering to Math and Science with the BBC.

There too are plenty of books waiting for you. Michael Hart started Project Gutenberg in 1971. With advances in electronics and computer technology its mission has become,”to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” The three main library categories on the site are light literature, heavy literature and references. The first contains texts such as Peter Pan and Aesop Fables. The second holds Shakespeare,the Bible and so forth. The last is home to the dictionaries, almanacs and encyclopedias.

In addition to these three main areas, the site has offline catalogs, audio books (both computer generated and human read), digitized sheet music and CD and DVD downloads.

According to the project’s main page at, “There are over 20,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalog” and “A grand total of over 100,000 titles” available over all.

Wikibooks is another place to go for free books. Began in 2003, the site now contains nearly 30,000 pages created by a sea of volunteers. The pages are categorized as Art, English, History, How to, Languages, Math, People and Science.

Related to Wikipedia is Scholarpedia. However, the later is different than the first in that not everyone can edit entries. The rules for Scholarpedia are that each article can only be written by an expert who has been invited or elected by the public, each article is anonymously peer reviewed to ensure accuracy, each article has a curator — usually its author — who is responsible for the article’s content, and any editing or other modification to an article must be approved by the curator before the change makes its way into the final copy.

According to the Scholarpedia home page, this latest rule is what separates the library from traditional print media. The site states, “Scholarpedia articles are not frozen and outdated, but dynamic, subject to an ongoing process of improvement moderated by their curators. This allows Scholarpedia to be up-to-date, yet maintain the highest quality of content.”

With such a selection of lectures, speeches, demonstrations and readings online, interesting and worthwhile topics are just a mouse click or two away.

With this, OnWords final column, I would like to wish everyone good luck in all of your academic dreams and thank you to those who have taken the time to write me.

Andrew Greene

Andrew Greene is director of Academic Colleges Group English Jakarta (ACG).

His personal blog can be found at http://


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