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Net gain: Anytime, everywhere
It is thought that the World Wide Web contains at least 25 billion pages and 110 million domains. So, even a search engine like Google will throw up a jaw-dropping number of sites for simple searches. This is where Wikipedia comes into play. Started in 2001, it is today the world's largest encyclopedia with over 2. 7 billion visitors every month. Not everything may be 100 per cent correct or exhaustively covered but it provides at the least the beginning of an answer.
In our gizmo-techno age we are surrounded by devices, processes, events that we don't know anything about. How do they work? The best answers can be found at Howstuffworks. com. From nuclear bombs to Gorilla Glass (that's what iPads are made of), the site explains the workings of almost anything. The whyfiles. com site takes another step forward - you can ask specifically why bats are dying of a fungus - and it provides the answer.
For scholars and academics, one of the most useful sites is jstor. org, a collection of 1, 400 journals. Unfortunately, its use is limited to institutions, which have to pay to become members and acquire access.
And, finally, if you can't find a book anywhere just go to library. nu website and search. It is the world's largest collection of books, uploaded by readers across the globe.
FREE COURSES AND LECTURES
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT - in short, the Ivy League - is now just a few clicks away, and for free. Thousands of people across the world are hearing lectures from top professors in these and other universities. Some offer full courses, others, only star lectures. Several other institutions, including Oxford, Cambridge and Duke University, have followed suit, uploading webcasts of public lectures by prominent academics.
You may not get a degree listening to them but surely your life will change for the better. You can get expert views on anything from the history of the Byzantine Empire to the Future of Internet by people who have done research and are authorities. There are highly specialised lectures too - what baboons can teach us about stress and coping (Robert Sapolsky, Stanford) or myths and realities about the Roman gladiator (Garrett Fagan, Penn State).
As with all things that become a rage, the academic terrain on the Web is becoming confusing. How do you zero in on the good ones without doing a tedious search? This is where the blogosphere steps in. There are people out there who are tracking these sites and keep you updated on what is new, what is dead, and most importantly, what is cool. Check out the blogs 'DIY Scholar' 'Annie is a Man' and 'Baxter Woods' for guidance.
MIT'S OPEN COURSEWARE CONSORTIUM
This is the grand-daddy of online educational collaboration. Till last count 250 universities had joined up to put 13, 000 courses online through the Consortium's dedicated website. It started a decade ago when the famed MIT put its lectures online through its site Open CourseWare (OCW). It has been a runaway success with over a million visits per month from practically every country.
SCIENCE LECTURES AND VIDEOS
There are hundreds of sites and blogs devoted to science and technology - almost 10 per cent of the searchable web is related to science. But what about learning science? Many universities offer science lectures. But if you want a dedicated site catering to just science, a good place to start would perhaps be 'Free Science and Video Lectures' and the associated 'Free Science Blogspot'. Run by a physics student Peteris Krumins from Latvia, both have a partial overlap with some of the universities but they also have a huge number of additional lessons and tutorials.
For more science, visit the websites of some of the famous scientific institutions and universities - there are amazingly creative lessons, both basic (" For Kids" ) as well as cutting edge. 'The Particle Adventure' site hosted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory associated with the University of California guides students through the complex and bizarre world of sub-atomic particles. Other science institutions that have fascinating websites include the 'Exploratorium' an audio-visual guide through this famous museum at San Francisco and 'Smithsonian', for the world's largest museum and research complex, which has put 6. 4 million of its 13 million objects in digital form. NASA has a fantastic, though complex, site.
CULTURE FOR ALL
Open Culture is another very successful model of online enlightenment. What does it do? "The web is filled with ridiculously interesting and useful resources. The problem is that it's hard to know where to find them, " explains lead editor Dan Colman, whose day job is director of Stanford University's continuing studies programme. Open Culture trawls the web, identifies the right material, curates it and provides you the links. The result is a vast collection of courses, audio-books, e-books, videos, films, text books, smart Youtube Channels and even language lessons. The world's art collection opened to the internet when the Google Art Project (or GAP for short) launched earlier this year. Now, anyone can gaze at the frantic brushstrokes of Van Gogh's Starry Night or looking into his rustic bedroom in Arles from the comfort of their's. The images are of such a high resolution that viewers can minutely examine each detail on the canvas. The site allows users to view the a selected number of art works from 17 international museums including the Uffizi Gallery, Florence;the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate in London. Google has also digitised the Dead Sea Scrolls that are part of the Israel Museum's collection.
The New York Philharmonic has created a priceless archive stretching from 1943 to 1970. There are yellowing scores with notes from the giants of western classical music, old programmes (Zubin Mehta's debut concert in 1960 describes him as a "native of Bombay and the the first of his nationality to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US" ) and business documents that mirror the political/ social issues of the period (cultural ramifications of the Cold War, representation of black and women artistes). The music isn't yet up but will be "in the not-so-distant future". If you want to know how crime writer PD James' love for classical music connects with her love of gore, download the wonderful podcasts available at http:// www. bbc. co. uk/radio4/features/dese rt-island-discs. These are a collection of Desert Island Discs from 1942 onwards with 'castaways' like Roger Waters, Emma Thompson and James Ellroy. The BBC is also working on a new radio website that will archive speech programmes going back to 1940. This 'Audiopedia' will also have every series of the iconic Reith Lectures since 1948.
OpenCourseware - MIT
New York University
UC San Diego
UC Los Angeles
Library of Congress
University of California TV
University of Virginia
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