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MIT Announces MITx Online Learning Initiative

MIT announced this morning an online learning initiative called MITx, which it describes as “a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform.” MITx is being combined with an MIT-wide research initiative on online learning and teaching.

Online learning is nothing new to MIT; if you’re aware of online education at all you probably know about OpenCourseWare from MIT, which makes notes, lectures, etc from 2000 courses available for free at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm (along with updates via an RSS feed; love you MIT.) From the announcement it seems like the MITx initiative is different from OCW in that it offers courseware and community and credentials.

The fact that MITx will “feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication,” (from the announcement) and “allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx” (also from the announcement) makes it sound like this is the next step between the raw content of OpenCourseWare (lecture notes, video lectures, transcripts, etc) and the complete package of an on-site, MIT education. (In one way it’s a tiny step, but in another way the idea of credentials being available through free courses like this is a huge leap.)

Not that I’m going to be able to investigate any time soon; a FAQ on MITx indicates that this new initiative will not launch until Spring 2012, and that will be in an experimental, prototype form. The same FAQ notes that OpenCourseWare is not going away (“OCW will continue as before: It will make course materials from across the MIT curriculum available to the world for free. There will be no reduction in the level of what OCW offers.”) and that, while credentials will be available through the MITx platform (“Those who have the ability and motivation to demonstrate mastery of content can receive a credential for a modest fee”) an MIT degree assuredly will not (“MIT awards MIT degrees only to those admitted to MIT through a highly selective admissions process.”)

The Tech has a somewhat more extensive overview of MITx (and I guess MITx really is “a brand,” though it’s disconcerting to think of it that way) and an article from the New York Times.

Blackline Masters from Kevin Savetz

Kevin Savetz has launched a new templates site. This one is for blackline masters — templates and worksheets for teachers and homeschoolers (and now I have learned a new vocabulary word.) There are currently over 60 of them available at http://www.blacklinemasters.net/.

There are four categories: Flags, Maps, Math, and Specialty. Blacklines include a clock face template, periodic table, and several country maps. (Hey, about some state maps?)

I must admit, this collection got me looking for more templates. Why aren’t there blacklines for individual states, for example? So I did a little searching and found some other ones you might find useful.

This collection from About.com focuses on math.

abcteach.com offers all kinds of teaching tools, including printables.

A to Z Teacher Stuff has printables in a variety of categories.

Here’s a list of literature blacklines.

This is not an area where I have done a lot of research, but this brief searching has made me curious. Do you have a favorite place for getting blacklines? Leave a note in the comments!

Public Schools Database for Ohio

The Dayton Business Journal has launched a database of public schools in Ohio. The database contains information on over 3600 schools and is available here (it’s a Caspio database and the URL is sloppy.)

You can search by building name (first letter), school type, district name, county, designation (excellent, academic emergency, etc.) or performance index score for 2009-2010. I searched for building names beginning with M and got 315 results. Results were presented in a table that showed all the details up front — school name, designation, Mean ACT/SAT Score for 2008-09 (when relevant), etc. — but each school also has a details link.

The details link takes you to a page of more information, including full school street address, number of students enrolled, and attendance rate. There’s also data on student reading, writing, math, science, and social studies levels.

This site is a quick and easy browse for Ohio school information, but if you want a more extensive search (or schools outside Ohio) check out the school search engine at the Department of Education or the search engine at GreatSchools.

Example Sentences? There’s a Database for That

Ever needed example sentences translated into lots and lots of languages? Here you go. Tatoeba (http://tatoeba.org/) is a database of sentences translated into many (over 40) languages. It’s in beta, which means that some of the features (like audio pronunciations of example sentences) are woefully underdone. But there’s still material for language lovers.

The front page does have a random sentence function, but the search box is at the top of the page. Specify from what language to what language you want to search, and any keywords you want to include. I searched from English to Any and searched for the keyword Hello. I got 58 results, from Hello? Are you still here? to Hello, it’s me, Nancy! I must say some of these sentences had plenty of personality (“Hello, what’s that? Somebody doing street theatre or something?”) so play around with your keywords.

Search results include the from language you’re searching, and then the sentence in all the other languages available. Some sentences had just the English version and one other version (usually Japanese or French.) Other sentences had results in French, German, Polish, Vietnamese, Czech, Arabic, Portuguese… each sentence has its own standalone page, where you can (if you’re registered) post a comment. (Registration also allows you to contribute to the Tatoeba site.) There’s also a log of changes to the sentence. Sometimes you’ll see that sentences are also “owned” by people. If sentences are not owned, you can “adopt” them and make changes yourself.

You’ll notice that most sentences have an audio icon next to them and in almost all cases that icon is marked with a red slash. That’s because while there is audio pronunciation on the site, it is at the moment extremely limited, so for the most part you will not see it as an available option for the sentences.

I liked the idea of a database like this — languages broken down into simple sentences, with many available — but I didn’t have a lot of hope for the sentences themselves. I am happy to report I was wrong; I love a database that has sentences like “Math is like love – a simple idea, but it can get complicated.” Or the vaguely sinister Bring everything to ruin. I found that the search engine was the most useful way to explore the site, but you might like the lists of topical sentences created by users or even, if you just want to browse, the random sentence option.

Of course I’m looking forward to the audio but the site has a lot to offer already.

Find Webinar Listings

Seems like every time you turn around you hear the word webinar. All it means is a seminar or presentation that’s held on the Web, but to me it also means, “I’m sure there are tons of cool presentations out there and many of them are free, but I don’t think I’ll be able to find them all.” I feel better now that I know about WebinarListings at http://www.webinarlistings.com/.

This site lists Webinars. (Sometimes they’re not hard to figure out.) Hit the calendar link and you’ll get a nice list of upcoming events for the next week or so. Actually it’s too lists; a list of featured webinars and a list of basic ones. Between the two lists there were thirteen webinars listed a recent day, from “The Secrets and Lies Behind Social Media Success” and “Introduction to Team-based Authoring” to “Strategic Planning as Organizational Development” and “Planning Your First Webinar” (in case you wanted to get meta.) The featured listings seem to have a lot more detail, but event pages for both lists have the essentials (who, what, when, and how much) as well as a bevy of ways to share the webinar, as well as list it on your own calendars. Most of the webinars I looked at were free, though I did find one that was $79.

If you’re only interested in specific topics you can also search for a webinar. I did a search for Facebook and found six webinars between now and the end of the month.

The site invites webinar hosts to list their webinars here; you have a choice between free listings and $60 featured listings. Check out this page for details on how to submit a webinar. And if you want to keep up with changes to the site, WebinarListings does have a blog.

Foreign Language Courses, Free Online

Thanks to Lifehacker for the pointer to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute langauge courses online. They’re free and available at http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php. Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one who saw this announcement — not by a long shot. Apparently traffic from Lifehacker overwhelmed the site’s servers and the site had taken down some downloadable materials, though every language I looked at had at least PDFs of course material available.

The site covers 41 languages, from Amharic to Yoruba. Pick a language from the list on the left, click it, and you’ll get a list of student materials on the right. (In the case of the screen shot I chose Bulgarian.) There’s student texts (available in PDF) and teaching tapes (available in MP3.) There was almost no annotation for the materials. To stop the site from being overloaded again, you may wish to just download one section or text at a time.

If there’s not enough here, check the OffSite page where you will get pointers to other language lessons, including Polish, Persian, and Dari.

If that’s REALLY not enough, you may wish to explore the following sites for more free language lessons:

Word 2 Word
FreeLanguge.org
Internet Polyglot
BBC Languages

OCW Search: Find Free University Courses Online

I found an article in The Chronicle about a new search engine for free university courses online. OCW Search (OCW stands for OpenCourseWare) is available at http://www.ocwsearch.com/. The site is in beta and is only indexing courses from MIT at the moment, but I like the search options and I can’t wait for the indexed content to expand.

The home page has a simple search box but there are also fairly sophisticated advanced search options, with stemming by default and special syntax to search by course title, instructor name, and course description. If you still can’t think of anything to look for there are example searches on the front page.

I did a search for education and got 688 results — and mind you, these were all from MIT! Yow! Search results include title, institution and date of the course, and a description that varies from a few sentences to a few extensive paragraphs. There are also direct links to the course home page and course download materials.

The site has a blog where you can both read about updates to the site and vote on which university’s materials should be added next. Impressive search engine and results even with only one university — but come on! I want to see more!

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