Sifting through archives of open online course material could soon become easier. A new public beta version of a web-based college course library aims to help students find open curriculum with a search function designed to narrow their hunt for video and audio lectures.
Einztein, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Monica, Calif., launched the beta version of a library with more than 2,000 complete online courses grouped into more than 30 categories, according to a May 25 company announcement.
Einztein’s library, approved of and curated by scholars and educational experts, features a search engine that helps students and educators drill down to exactly the course they’re searching for, doing the “heavy lifting of cataloguing and indexing the courses into a searchable library,” according to the announcement.
The online library’s users can sort their search by tags, media type, subject matter, and course provider, among other criteria. Students also can see course ratings on the Einztein site.
Web sites featuring hundreds or thousands of online lectures are often difficult to navigate, and students struggle to find the next in a series of lessons from the same professor in the same course, education-technology experts have said.
Einztein officials said the site designed its search engine for finding complete courses because even ubiquitous search engines like Google have their shortcomings.
“Search engines have inherent limitations when it comes to filtering content and discovering useful academic courses, and these shortcomings aren’t being adequately addressed elsewhere,” Einztein CEO Marco Masoni said in a statement. “This is why we’ve taken up the task of applying our team’s academic expertise to exclusively selecting courses that meet a quality threshold based on what learners are looking for when they initiate an online search.”
A student or faculty member searching for online history videos and lectures on the Einzstein site can click the “History” tab in the list of available subject areas, then whittle down their search by clicking on a college or university name. Clicking on Stanford University will bring students to a page of common history courses from Stanford, including “Ben Franklin and the World of Enlightenment,” “Historical Jesus,” and “The Modern Freedom Struggle,” among a host of others in the university’s history lessons.
An Einztein user also can click on the type of educational material they’re looking for: video, audio, or documents. The company–which takes online course submissions that will be reviewed by Einztein’s scholars–said on its site that it would release more online tools for students later this year.
Einztein’s beta site launches four months after an annual report tracking the latest trends in educational technology focused on open content–a trend buoyed by MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative and the Open Knowledge Foundation, among others.
Rather than releasing educational material into free online repositories, some colleges and universities have embraced open content as a “social responsibility,” according to the 2010 Horizon Report, released in January by education technology advocacy group EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium. The report describes technological changes that will have the greatest impact on college students and faculty.
The rising popularity of open-content programs is “a response to the rising costs of education, the desire for access to learning in areas where such access is difficult, and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn,” according to the Horizon Report.
Institutions such as Tufts University have launched open courseware initiatives in the past year. Tufts makes all learning material available online for free. The free program doesn’t require registration, and completing the classes doesn’t contribute to a college degree.
Other online course libraries include San Francisco-based Academic Earth–a for-profit site, unlike Einztein–which launched in January 2009 with more than 1,600 video lectures. The site, run by 24-year-old Richard Ludlow, a 2007 Yale University graduate, reported more than 100,000 visitors in its first two weeks online.
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