Many high school students have passions they are excited about, and want to dive deeper into. Unfortunately, the courses and extracurriculars offered by many high schools do not allow them to fully fulfill students’ desires, as mandated curriculums and state testing take up too much of the schedules and budget.
Many of these students then turn to the great wellspring of information that is the internet. There are a great many wonderful educational resources online for students who want to explore subjects they are passionate about, but there is an equal if not greater quantity of misinformation out there. The purpose of this guide, therefore, is to lay some groundwork for students, so they know what to look for, and where they can begin their search.
We’ll begin this guide by introducing you to some of the most popular and reputable online sources. These cover most basic topics, and many niche ones as well, and are a useful guide to students just getting started in individual academic exploration. We will then include a section on evaluating sources, for students who search more widely, and who want some guidance on determining if a source is worth listening to.
While it is impossible to list every online educational resource, we will include our favorites here, as they are often enough to give students a good taste of many subjects, and allow them to independently explore any academic discipline they are interested in.
Khan Academy is a free educational site, founded by Sal Khan in 2006 as a non-profit, with a goal of providing educational resources for all. They cover introductory and advanced topics alike, with videos that break down content into manageable chunks. While they may not cover all of a topic, they are one of the best places to get introduced to new academic topics, especially in fields where you have no prior experience or knowledge. While they are free, they do accept donations, to help them continue their mission of providing free education to all who want it.
Founded by a pair of professors at Stanford, Coursera is a resource which allows anyone to view college lecture courses on a wide variety of subjects, from a number of prominent schools. Most of the lectures are free to view, although some are not. When you complete a full lecture course, you can purchase a certificate to indicate this accomplishment.
Not all of the courses here are appropriately levelled for beginners, but most will allow some useful information to be gleaned. Read the course description carefully before plunging in, to make sure you won’t be getting in over your head.
Created by Harvard and MIT jointly, edX is quite similar to Coursera, although partnering with different schools and offering different courses. Much like Coursera, however, you can find intermediate and advanced lecture courses on a variety of topics and in a variety of disciplines. SOme of these will require a fee, but most are completely free.
Between these three sites, you will be able to find an introduction too and an in-depth look at most academic subjects. The final resource to look at is academic conferences and lecture series on youtube. While not universally uploaded, many lecture series, conferences, and other academic offerings sponsored by colleges are uploaded to youtube. It can sometimes be difficult, however, to discern which lectures and sources are worthwhile, and which are charades or fronts for something else.
The internet is a remarkable resource, filled with countless sites and videos. How then do you separate the wheat from the chaff, and determine whether or not a source is actually trustworthy? In this section, we’ll explain how to judge sources, and determine if they are worth your time.
The first step is to determine who a source is. This is especially key on youtube, where videos may be uploaded by any and everyone. Many universities will upload courses and lectures to their own youtube pages, these are a good place to start, as you know you can trust them to provide scholarly rigor.
If, however, you find a new source, a conference talk for instance, and want to determine if it’s trustworthy, you first need to determine what the conference is. Most academic conferences maintain webpages, and it is soon easy to determine whether or not one is legitimate by reading these. Look for affiliations to trusted sources, such as other institutions. A lecture series sponsored by Harvard is going to be reputable, while one sponsored by a small company in the middle of nowhere is more likely to be suspect.
Second, look for what the source is saying. Are they merely seeking to inform, or are they arguing a point? Arguing a point can be an important part of academic discourse, especially when publishing new research, but still bears critical examination. Once you know what position the source is arguing, and why, it becomes easier to know if that particular source is trustworthy.
Finally, determine who is funding the information. A study on sugar and health funded by sugar companies is potentially good science, but has a clear conflict of interest. The point of most universities is to be impartial, looking for facts where they may be found, and divining truth from them. If an organization is reputable in itself, such as a major research university, this is less necessary. When finding smaller sources however, you should examine who is funding their research and findings.
Once you can critically examine sources, you will be much better equipped to know whether or not a given source of information may be trusted. This process may seem tedious, but it is important. Knowledge is power goes the old saying, but it is no less true just because it is cliche. Being able to examine a source, and determine its utility, is a valuable skill in its own right, and one well worth cultivating.
It is admirable to want to explore academic interests on your own, and many colleges will be quite impressed, especially if your research blossoms into greater results than reading alone. The discovery of knowledge is a beautiful thing, and we hope that this guide has given you the tools you need to fully explore your academic passions and interests. While not exhaustive, we want you to have the tools needed to learn on your own.
If you want to do something with your knowledge, and have achievements beyond the norm, then feel free to reach out to us. We have a long experience helping students find their passions, and build new and exciting projects based upon them, bettering both themselves and their communities in the process. Schedule a free consultation today to learn how we can help you fulfill your academic dreams.