Open Access Resources, Exciting!{33}

My first experience with this ingenious concept of open sharing of materials and resources for academic purposes was when I was doing my masters at MIT.  When I first found out almost all the courses I was taking and the companying class notes, assignment, even past year exam papers could be easily found at the this website known as the MIT Open CourseWare (OCW) by everyone, my immediate and crude response was “What is the point of paying such a high tuition fee to have access to exactly the same materials?!” Even though I was getting my notes from my professors on the password-required Scholar website, I actually often go to that course website on OCW to preview the lecture notes for future classes to better prepare myself for pop questions in classes. Still, I felt kind of cheated for the tuition fee paid which, of course, looking back from now, I have no regret at all. As I started to explore around OCW beyond my classes, I became addicted to this website and these ideas of generous knowledge sharing and empowerment.

This unconventional way of learning outside classroom just kept giving me delightful surprises. For my master thesis project, I decided to embark on a new field of environmental modeling and simulation. Unlike of conducting laboratory experiments to collect data and verify hypothesis, modeling requires a stronger background on the computing languages and coding experience, which I did not have much at that time. I would have give up on that budding interest if it was not because a classmate told me about the wonderful course on Introduction to MATLAB Programming on OCW. It was rated and reviewed by avid independent learner from all over the world as the best course to give one a good start on programming with computers. Open access materials leaves out the pressure of class attendance, logistics issues and assignment deadlines etc. Instead, I had more flexibility in structuring the study contents and the pace. The extra autonomy indeed makes more to think more clearly about what I need to know about MATLAB to enable me to apply it in my project. It turned out to a very efficient self-learning experience. Beside taking the technical courses, I also took great pleasure in the browsing the subjects that interest me greatly but could not take due to credit limits or time clashes, such as some interdisciplinary courses on sustainable concepts and designs, musical and philosophical classes etc. I knew I would not have the courage to take any of the classes for credits for very practical reasons of damping my GPA. OCW provides people who shared the same concern with me a great way to be exposed to the right amount of awareness of certain topics as the learners desire.

Before writing this blog, I have not visited the MIT OCW for a long time. However, when I went on to the website, I felt the same stimulation to realize I could take so many great courses for free. Despite my piled deadlines, I still registered for two more courses that I just could not resist, Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness and Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.  MIT, in collaboration with some the best universities in the world, even came up with the edX program to offer more structured and interactive virtual courses, free to every one. It is indeed exhilarating news to any self-driven learner.  Better time management is what I need to allow me make the more out of this ever-expanding knowledge pool.

A relevant journal I found from the list of Open Access Journal in the field of environmental sciences is Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) ,  supported from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is a well-regarded peer-reviewed publication for its academic values. Not only all its content is available online for free, selected articles are translated into other languages for publication outside the States.  I used to only rely on the institution-power search engine to find database and journals. For my new research interest on evaluating the life cycle path and health and environmental impacts of emerging nanoparticles, EHP is definitely a valuable place I will look for information. I am excited about what exploration with the new class of Open Access Journal.

I was also surprised to find many of the Open Access Week events are held in VT. Many of the workshops caught my attention even after a brief glance. I will definitely take note of the dates and follow up with my experience in the blog once I get the chance to attend one.