Academic Earth

What is Academic Earth?
“Academic Earth is working to bring together the best available content across many subjects and distribute it in an engaging and useful way to learners worldwide.”

What is Academic Earth’s goal?
“Academic Earth’s goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment in which that content is remarkably easy to use and where user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable.”

The Ivan Illich Learning Webs Scoring System

Network 1: Reference services to educational objects.
Score = 2.
Key Components:
X symbol/Check mark symbol Educational objects.
Check mark symbol       Educational objects available 24/7.

Academic Earth takes advantage of one educational object. This educational object is videos. Regarding videos, Illich stressed the theory that “the physical learning resources which have been reduced to teaching instruments must become generally available for self-directed learning.” The use of videos by Academic Earth has brought the “physical learning resources” back to life. Illich believed that bringing these “physical learning resources” back to life would enable students to learn outside of the classroom. Learning outside of the classroom provides for a self-motivation and a self-interest that learning inside the classroom does not provide. This self-motivation is fueled by genuine curiosity.  The videos made available by Academic Earth are accessible at all times for all who wish to fulfill this curiosity. There are thousands of them on topics including Astronomy, Biology, Computer Science, Entrepreneurship, History, and many more. They consist of lectures by the world’s leading scholars including Matthew E. Kahn, Anne Margulies, Henry Jenkins, Ed Moses, Julie Young, and many more. All of these world leading scholars are professors at universities including Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and many more.

Network 2: Skill exchanges.
Score = 2.
Key Components:
X symbol/Check mark symbol Models can list their skills.
X symbol/Check mark symbol Models can list the conditions under which they are willing to serve as models.

Academic Earth involves the exchange of thousands of skills. These skills take form as videos. These videos can be watched one by one or in playlists. Though the world’s leading scholars serve as the educators in these videos, they do not serve as the models for students who want to learn.  The student must serve as their own model. A student’s inquisitiveness must push them through the learning process. Though Illich called for an external model rather than an internal model, he understood that “for most widely shared skills, a person who demonstrates the skill is the only human resource we ever get.” Illich provided us with an example when explaining the necessity of this model. In his example, a guitar instructor served as the model and a guitar student served as the student. He stated that the guitar instructor guides the student in their understanding of the guitar. However, he is not the most essential element in the student’s understanding of the guitar. With the use of the guitar and the use of the educational objects associated with the guitar, the student may teach himself. Though this is not ideal, it provides access to an education that the student may not have had access to otherwise.

Network 3: Peer-matching.
Score = 2.
Key Components:
X symbol       Includes a communications network.
X symbol/Check mark symbol Allows students to inquire about a learning activity.

Academic Earth does not contain a communications network that enables students to search out one another. This is a capability that is essential to Illich’s interpretation of “Learning Webs.” This capability creates “a desirable educational system which lets each person specify the activity for which they seek a peer.” The peer that Illich describes provides support to a student that no other educational resource can provide. They facilitate communication, collaboration, and exchange. All of these being important aspects of the learning experience. Though Academic Earth does not supply this peer, it does allow students to inquire about learning activities. They can do this by searching Academic Earth or contacting Academic Earth about learning activities in which they are interested. Academic Earth is willing to expand their library of information as evident through there mission of gathering academic resources online in order to compile them into an easily-accessible website.

Network 4: Reference services to educators-at-large.
Score = 3.
Key Components:
Check mark symbol Includes a educator(s)-at-large.

Academic Earth consists of a database of educators-at-large. This database includes the world’s leading scholars. These scholars made the conscious decision to share their knowledge with the world rather than with just their respective university. Illich clarified that educators-at-large such as these satisfy two distinct needs, “the first is a need for pedagogy, the second for intellectual leadership in all other fields of knowledge. The first calls for knowledge of human learning and of educational resources, the second for wisdom based on experience in any kind of exploration.” These two needs may be satisfied by the educator-at-large or by both the educator-at-large and a mentor. For example, in a conventional education environment a student may look to their teacher or their teacher and their parents for advice. Each reference may be able to help a student in a different way or a similar way depending on their relationship. If a student is close with their teacher, or an educator-at-large, they may go to their teacher for advice regarding their education as well as life.

Overall Score = 9

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