— Joseph Frantz
Joseph Frantz is a standout example of what’s possible in today’s open world. Joseph is a student at CSU San Bernadino, a public university in the windy foothills of the Sierras east of Los Angeles. He left high school at 16 and, in his words, “f***ked around” in community college for a couple of years. He worked as a personal trainer and in a guitar store, jobs he “hated,” which sent him back to college. His budget allowed only for a public university, which he found pretty disappointing. “This is what you do?” he says he thought when he got to CSUSB. “This is it? The whole thing? It’s a joke, it’s a racket.” In the past a bright, rebellious student like Joseph might have gotten bored and quit college for good. But Joseph had glimpsed another way. “I lived in Boston for a year with some guys who went to MIT. They just loved learning things. They would watch the TED Talks and Open Courseware videos in our little dining room. When I came back here to school I realized, the lectures I’m attending are the same topics they give at MIT, and if I watch them online I can watch them whenever I want. Then one day, I was searching Youtube to clarify some math concepts and I found Khan Academy. I thought, this is so much easier! And I stopped going to class.” Today Joseph is earning straight A’s as an economics major at CSUSB. In his free time he writes fiction and reads authors like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem. He tutors other students in economics, but rarely goes to class himself, preferring to teach himself with free videos, reading, and problem sets online. The main sites he likes to use are MIT’s Open Courseware, which is organized in full courses with 50-minute videos, problem sets, and sample exams, and Khan Academy, which fea- tures much shorter, 5 to 10 minute tutorials. “That guy Sal Khan, he’s like my hero. He’s so funny. He has this comedic timing even when he’s talking about math.” When studying using open resources, Frantz says, “I go from the MIT to the Khan. Khan reinforces MIT. MIT presupposes that you have all this knowledge, and Khan doesn’t. Sometimes I go back to the textbook and if it’s really something I can’t understand I go to the tutoring center or professors’ office hours. Between all that it makes it really easy to learn things. I tutor Math and Econ at the learning center and I tell students to go watch the Khan videos when they don’t have a solid background in something.” He also checks definitions on Wikipedia, searches and posts questions and answers on Urch.com, a forums site that has a message board for PhD students in economics, and finds free textbooks to download on TextbookRevolution.org. Joseph developed his self-teaching methods over time, through trial and error. He finds them a lot more efficient and even fun than waiting to learn at the pace of a course. “At least for me, learning has to be question-based,” he writes. “I found that the biggest challenge to learning online is knowing the questions to ask. For me, finding the right question often meant working backwards. When you’re teaching yourself, you have to work off basic assumptions, against which you can relate back pieces of information. These assumptions function as a path towards the questions that necessary to facilitate understanding. Two common ones that I use are:
•Every significant piece of information is part of one or more theories and every theory can be broken into smaller modular components.
•Every theory uses a set of symbols, not all of which are language-based.When first presented with a concept now, my initial reaction is to find where it fits into established systems of thought or understanding. Once the concept is placed, I ask myself what its components are, and learn them on the fly as I try to make applications in the real world. I often have the aid of textbooks giving me example problems as a way for me to test the know- ledge I’ve acquired. The next question is the symbols. Math, for example, uses Greek letters, and an entire set of operators generated by mathematicians over hundreds of years. Economics uses graphs, mathematical operators, and spoken English. In a chemistry lab, we use models; these symbols in the physical world reinforce theories that are explained by English and math on paper.”
Select a piece of text to add your own public notes and helpful comments for others.