Some of the worlds leading universities have discovered that information should be free, or at lest freely available. As such they are offering the lectures from their Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics, and other departments.
The site Lecture Fox.com catalogs a significant amount of material from schools such as UC Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvard. I have watched a few into to Biochem lectures from MIT and a lecture on Copyright in Computer Science also from MIT. These lectures are the real deal, recorded in the classroom while being taught to students (as oppose to lecturing to the camera). However, not all lectures are video. Some are audio and others are just the lecture notes. Either way, it is awesome to have the oppertunity to “take” a course from a leading school without having to pay for it. The obvious downside of not being credited for the course applies, but do you really need to take the course to expand your knowledge? For the curious minded, these lectures are an excellent starting point.
I believe this trend will continue with universities and colleges placing more of their content online for the public to access. Many schools are recognizing that this is part recruitment tool – by showing the quality of the education given – and a way to expand public knowledge of a given topic. One of the underlaying principals of academics is that by educating people you are helping better society. Following in that trend, making podcasted versions of lectures, or placing video online further shares that knowledge with the general public.
Would this harm the educational process? I do not believe so. Two very important social qualities are missing from this offering. One is the formalization of an education. By not actually being a registered student you do not receive formal credit for any course. Secondly, because you are not formally getting credit or participating in the course you are also missing the testing part. As much as I may dislike it, testing is an important part of any educational process providing a means to measure your understanding of the topics presented.
I hope to see more universities move in this direction. Providing introduction and slightly more advanced courses to the general knowledge base can only have a positive effect on society as a whole. For schools with solid programs, and good professors, recruitment could incline based on peoples experiences through observing lectures. Finally, for people who are having difficulties isolating which field they may which to study this gives them a chance to preview different topics with a result of saving time, frustration, and money.
Really it seems to be a win win scenario.