Teach Yourself with University CS Resources

Posted in Software Development, The Internet by Dan on June 23rd, 2008

Over at DZone, I saw an article titled “Who Needs a Computer Science Degree When There‚Äôs Wikipedia?“. It suggests that you can learn as much from Wikipedia as you can by pursuing a formal university education in Computer Science. Sure, Wikipedia can be extremely informative (at least as an initial resource), but a random walk through the Wikipedia jungle could take you anywhere. It’s not a very structured syllabus.

I’ve been through a university CS education. I’m not going to argue the pros and cons of it here. Instead I’m more interested in how to acquire similar knowledge freely via the web. I’m certain that there are better approaches than trawling through Wikipedia (though Wikipedia would remain invaluable for background reading and finding references to more authoritative sources).

For me, the most obvious place to start is the universities themselves. Have a look at the Computer Science department websites and you will find that many of them provide access to course materials for anyone to download. One of the perils of teaching yourself is that you often don’t know what you don’t know. Unlike Wikipedia, the university content will be from a structured course, designed to teach the important stuff and avoid leaving huge blindspots in your knowledge.

Unlike going to university for real, you don’t have to worry about fees, academic records or geography. You get to pick from the best universities worldwide to provide your education. Leading the way is MIT and their Open Courseware program. This provides high quality content tailored for remote learning. But there are many other universities that provide access to lecture notes (or videos) and exercises.

I was thinking how useful it would be if there was a website that collated links to the best online CS course materials. Then, quite by accident, I stumbled across Google’s CS Curriculum Search. This is a Google web search restricted to the CS departments of universities. It categorises the results into “Lectures”, “Assignments” and “Reference”. It seems to be a very useful tool.

The Curriculum Search is part of the Google Code University, which includes their own content related to CS topics that are important to them (e.g. distributed computing and web security).

Another resource that may prove useful is Scholarpedia, which I have mentioned before.