Connexions, a web-based teaching and learning environment, aims to change the way we develop and use course materials. Connexions is based on a set of intuitions that are shared by a remarkably wide range of academics: that knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should get credit and kudos for contributing to research and education; and that concepts and ideas are linked in unusual and surprising ways.
For authors and instructors worldwide, Connexions combines free authoring, course building, and publishing tools with an open-access content repository (see cnx.rice.edu). For students, it provides modular, interactive courses that are freely accessible. In Connexions, an author can create “modules” of information—smallish documents intended to communicate a concept, a procedure, a set of questions. String some modules together, and you have a web course or textbook, or weave a curriculum entirely of your choosing. Connexions directly challenges the current notion of a “textbook” by exploding it and asking different people to create its parts in a semi-structured but re-configurable manner, rather than having a single Maestro do it all and take all the credit. All Connexions content is open-licensed using the Creative Commons attribution license; all Connexions tools are free and open-source.
Connexions is being used in traditional college and K–12 settings, in distance learning, and by lifelong learners around the globe. Demand is surging; in May 2005 alone, the Connexions servers handled over 11 million hits representing 900,000 page views from 350,000 users from 157 countries. Volunteers are translating modules and courses into a range of different languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.
Connexions content development is grass-roots organized and inter-institutional. Our most active content development areas at present include music, engineering, physics, chemistry, bioinformatics, nanotechnology, and history. For example, a vibrant community of electrical engineering faculty from Stanford, UC-Berkeley, University of Illinois , Michigan , Wisconsin , Ohio State , Georgia Tech, Rice, Cambridge , and TU Norway is developing a customizable digital signal processing (DSP) curriculum in Connexions. Austin, Texas-based National Instruments is contributing DSP training materials as well as developing a free “player” version of its popular LabVIEW signal processing tool that will make the materials come alive with sights and sounds, adding much needed interactivity to engineering curricula. Cambridge University Press is contributing a number of DSP textbooks to Connexions for free access.
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