The Seven-Sided Die

OpenCourseWare, for learning and inspiration

Posted Wednesday September 03, 2008 at 05:14 PM

OpenCourseWare is a pile of lecture notes, tests, syllabi, and other course materials put together by MIT for anyone's use. It's intended as a resource for instructors and students, but the list of course materials for each of the hundreds of courses is complete enough that someone could use it to do casual self-directed study entirely outside the traditional institutions of academia.

The navigation leaves something to be desired, but it's good once I figured it out: once a course has been chosen, the left navbar's scope isn't site-wide anymore, and that's where they keep all the links to the different materials.

Damn, there's some cool stuff here. There's a Women's Studies course called The Anthropology of Computing. It seems to be more focused on the tech stuff than on the women's issues stuff, but it folds in gender-aware cultural study. Actually, I guess that's a nice balance: anthropology and tech study that acknowledges gender inequality, rather than a course on gender inequality that happens to mention some computers sometimes.

And week four of that course has the best title: "World War Two: Cybernetics, Communication, and Control". It makes me think of an alternate history where soldiers marched through that horror bristling with vacuum tube–punk technology, and enigmatic code-breaking computers with whispers of a machine soul pondered nascent plans of their own.

(Yeah, these days everything sounds like a roleplaying game to me.)

There's a lot to like here for roleplayers. Many GMs consider the library one of their best setting "sourcebooks" for their system of preference. Courses like The Ancient World: Rome offer a tonne of inspiration and reading resources for building a game, all in one place. The materials presented are thorough enough that you could build a setting around not only the elites in the capital during the heyday of Rome, but also the daily lives of the common people, or during the monumental build-up to the establishment of the Empire.

For players, it's a great resource for inspiring characters. History is full of dramatic personæ and stories laden with pathos.

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