Richard Baraniuk – Empowering Teachers to Create Quality Programs

More than 19 million students are enrolled in various colleges and universities across the United States. While some of them have access to the best teachers and resources, others are not as lucky. However, like students, many teachers are also dissatisfied with their careers. They believe that their ability to share knowledge and teach students is being restricted by the policies and rules created by the universities and the government agencies. Many educators are, therefore, embracing the open source learning to reach out to millions of students across the globe. Professors at top universities such as Stanford and MIT are creating web-based portals to offer free classes to everyone. Although these programs do not fetch you a degree or a credential, you will have the benefit of learning from the best educators in the world.

Richard Baraniuk, a Rice University Professor, is working hard to help teachers create open education materials with ease. He has helped create and manage Connexions, a web-based portal that allows teachers to create coursework efficiently, without the fear of copyright violations. The website gives the power back to the teachers. The Creative Commons licensing allows teachers to share course materials and textbook information, modify existing work and explaining it their students for free.  With hundreds of online courses and millions of users, Baraniuk’s website is leveling the playing field of education.

Connexions has more than 17,000 learning modules and 1,000 resources such as textbooks and journal articles. It covers several fields of study including science, math, history, psychology, sociology and English. The content can be delivered for free to various schools, educators, students and parents for a 24/7 access to information. The architecture and software of the website provides frictionless mixing of the teaching material to create a comprehensive program. Apart from the internet, the modules and the programs can be downloaded as free EPUB and PDF files. Connexions itself is an open system. Anybody can add content to the website. The website, however, uses software tools to maintain the quality of the content.

The nonprofit venture was launched by Rice University in 1999 under the leadership of Baraniuk. The project has received funding from several individuals and foundations. The Open Access education of Connexions allows educators to use the material according to their requirements. Volunteer translation projects are underway to convert the information into Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese. The website is being used by organizations such as Teachers Without Borders to train teachers in 84 countries. Baraniuk hopes that the website will:

  • Allow talented K-12 teachers, scientists and engineers to write and publish educational content.
  • Lower the cost of education in general
  • Reduce the lag time between the publishing a book and getting it to the student.

The faculty members and experts do not make money from writing these books but can make a significant impact.

Apart from managing Connexions, Baraniuk is also an Electrical Engineering Professor at Rice University. In fact, the idea of Connexions originated from his frustrations while teaching the course at the University. He wished to write a new book, and use the open source software to impact the world of writing textbooks and educational materials.