Each Tuesday or Wednesday I'll try to post a link to an interesting learning resource. Treat this as an open thread for on-line learning, education news, or to bring us news about your your own field.
Last week I linked to iBioSeminars, free Quicktime-format lectures by the leading lights in cell biology. I also want to draw attention to a couple links submitted by commenters, The Doctor's Guide, a medical news site submitted by Margot, and The Archaeology Channel, a site full of audio and video documentaries about ongoing archeological work, submitted by Elliott. I'll get back to multimedia soon, but this week I want to take a look at the world of free online texts.
My favorite source, blackmask.com, was shut down a year or two ago amidst some copyright dispute. It has been reborn as Munseys.com, and currently has upwads of 25,000 titles available, all full text, free, in a number of formats including HTML, PDF, and popular eBook reader formats.
For example, check out their Political Science shelf -- everything from Hobbes to the 9/11 Commission Report. Most of their titles are copyright-expired, meaning older pieces (not a problem for those among us who see survival over time as a powerful measure of quality, and also believe all the best science fiction was written before the moon landing).
Personally, ever since emptywheel's Public Intellectual thread the other day, I'd gotten it into my head to learn more about John Dewey, so I was happy to find his "Democracy and Education" available. One passage, about science education, particularly resonated for me. He talks about how science is often taught "answers-first," rather than "questions-first" -- the student is given the current thinking about how X works, rather than being led through the process of taking an observation, formulating a question, thinking of how it could be tested, and interpreting results. Amazingly, though the book is from 1916, today this is considered a very modern idea in science education. It's worth reading in full, but I'll condense it here.
[F]rom a few bones the competent zoologist reconstructs an animal [...t]o the non-expert, however, this perfected form is a stumbling block. [...] To the layman the bones are a mere curiosity. Until he had mastered the principles of zoology, his efforts to make anything out of them would be random and blind. [...Yet, p]upils begin their study of science with texts in which the subject is organized into topics according to the order of the specialist. Technical concepts, with their definitions, are introduced at the outset. Laws are introduced at a very early stage, with at best a few indications of the way in which they were arrived at. The pupils learn a "science" instead of learning the scientific way of treating the familiar material of ordinary experience. [...]
The chronological method [...] begins with the experience of the learner and develops from that the proper modes of scientific treatment [...]. The apparent loss of time involved is more than made up for by the superior understanding and vital interest secured. What the pupil learns he at least understands. Moreover by following [...] the methods by which scientific men have reached their perfected knowledge, he gains independent power to deal with material within his range [...]. Since the mass of pupils are never going to become scientific specialists, it is much more important that they should get some insight into what scientific method means than that they should copy at long range and second hand the results which scientific men have reached. Students will not go so far, perhaps, in the "ground covered," but they will be sure and intelligent as far as they do go.
I was pleased to find that this book is also available, for free download, from Google Books, either on-line or for download as a PDF, with page-by-page scans of the original text.