I am pretty convinced that one can learn practically all subjects from easily accessible content available for free on the web. This summer I am teaching a development economics course at University of California at Berkeley, Econ171. I will use the web extensively.
As recently as a few years ago, the course would have used a textbook (which usually cost upwards of $100) and a “course reader” (a collection of papers and other reference materials photocopied and bound, and costing around $30 or so.) Today it is possible to do it very differently.
I have not asked the class (around 50 students) to buy any costly textbook, nor is there a need for me to put together a course reader. Instead, I have recommended Gregory Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms”. It is a must read for students of development. Another very valuable book is Bill Easterly’s “The Elusive Quest for Growth.” Together they cost less than $30 and easily ordered from Amazon.
I reviewed a book that was used in similar courses in the past — Debraj Ray’s “Development.” It sells for $80 at Amazon. Moreover, it was written in 1998. It is a good textbook but somewhat dated. For my purpose, I did not find the selection of topics suitable for a modern course on development. For instance, the book does not have a chapter on corruption and economic growth. Another thing that I find essentially associated with development — urbanization — is not addressed in the book. Both for cost and content, I decided to take a different route.
Technology has expanded the opportunities for how we learn. I have a class blog where I post all homework and assignments. Homework includes reading articles and papers, watching videos, listening to podcasts. All communications outside of class and office hours are done on the blog.
Here’s a video that I recently posted on the class blog.
It was the last 200 years that changed the world. In 1809 all countries of the world had a life expectancy under 40 years and an income per person less than 3000 dollar per year. Since then the world has changed but it was not until after the second world war that most countries started to improve.
For the first time, Gapminder can now visualize change in life expectancy and income per person over the last two centuries. In this Gapminder video, Hans Rosling shows you how all the countries of the world have developed since 1809 – 200 years ago.
The interactive animations and corresponding documentation are freely available at www.gapminder.org/world.