Free Academic Materials Online

An earlier post looked at open courseware—free online courses from universities. From 2002 to 2010, the idea has caught on in so many places, Free does seem to be the way ahead!

Apart from entire courses, educational and other institutions—but primarily universities—have a lot of material online, as we discovered to our pleasant surprise. Doing personal research (or study) online is a very different thing when you consider that there's so much authoritative free material out there. You won't find them all in one place, but here's a collection of links to point you to the Free Stuff.

1. University subject collections

Several universities have made course materials available for free online, not based on the OCW model. If you look around, you'll find one university with a collection of materials on biology, one with a collection on astronomy. As examples, the University of Stanford has a computer science collection. The mathematics collection at New York University's site is stunning: entire books, past lectures as video, lecture notes, and tutorials! There's an equally exhaustive collection of resources at Whatcom community college; this one includes interactive software as well.

2. Free books

We've had Project Gutenberg—free books online—for a decade or more now, and there are others. UPenn's free online books page lists almost a million titles. The collection seems to be more modern than that at Gutenberg; perhaps less of an emphasis on classics. But with 900,000 titles, that distinction doesn't mean much! Carnegie-Mellon University "and partners" have The Universal Digital Library. Books are displayed within the site's book reader.

3. College/University lecture (and other) videos

Open courseware apart, there's plenty of academic video online. Some sites have bits and pieces, some others have structured series. Take a look at Princeton University's lecture videos. There are current as well as past Princeton lectures spanning a broad subject range.  OpenCulture calls itself the "Best free cultural and educational media on the Web"; the University Video Collections page is a gateway site to streams/channels, archives, and collections of videos from academia. Stanford has an "e-corner" for video lectures on entrepreneurship.

4. Language courses at university sites

There are probably thousands of free online language courses (or, at least, sites with course materials for foreign languages); some will appreciate the availability of free courses from universities. Examples are Penn State University's Swedish and Hungarian courses, and the University of Arizona's courses for about ten languages. These are structured courses, as opposed to resources grouped together! Dig around a little and you're to find many others.

5. Free textbooks

For students enrolled towards a degree, the first thing on the "Free" wishlist would be textbooks. Here and there, slowly, core textbooks are becoming available online for free. A couple of random examples are the probability textbook at Dartmouth College and the linear algebra textbook at the University of Puget Sound. The big point here is, these books are currently available in bookstores, where they aren't free. In fact, the Student Public Interest Research Groups, which "organizes college students to solve ... pressing public interest problems," maintains a catalogue of Open Textbooks—links to free textbooks online.

6. Academic research help/materials for students

ERIC lets students search and browse collections of journals and other academic materials. Many full texts are available, and help towards finding what you're looking for.

7. Academic materials for instructors, homepage of Annenberg Media, is probably a familiar name. The materials—programs, short courses, interactive sessions, workshops—are for students as well as teachers; the primary intent, though, is to provide educators with programs they can integrate into their courses.