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A whole new world of learning via MIT OpenCourseWare videos

Like millions of others during the global Covid-19 lockdowns, Emmanuel Kasigazi, an entrepreneur from Uganda, turned to YouTube to pass the time. But he wasn’t following an influencer or watching music videos. A lifelong learner, Kasigazi was scouring the video-sharing platform for educational resources. Since 2013, when he got his first smartphone, Kasigazi has been charting his own learning journey through YouTube, educating himself on subjects as diverse as psychology and artificial intelligence. And it was while searching for the answer to an AI-related question that Kasigazi first discovered MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW).

“The search results showed MIT lectures, and I thought, ‘Which MIT is this?’” recalls Kasigazi, who admits he was initially skeptical as he opened the OCW YouTube channel. To his amazement, he found hundreds of courses there — not only clips, but complete lectures that he could follow alongside the students in MIT classrooms. He searched for more information on OCW and tried the channel on different browsers to triple-check its credibility. “Here they were, all these courses by one of the best — if not the best — schools in tech in the world, and they were free. For a long time I couldn’t believe it. I told everyone I knew,” he remembers.

For Kasigazi, the channel became a gateway to other open education resources, including the OpenCourseWare website and MITx courses, both part of MIT Open Learning. “I always had the questions — I grew up on science cartoons like ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ and ‘Pinky and the Brain’ — so I would go on YouTube to try to find answers to these questions, and I found this whole other world,” he says.

OCW launched its YouTube channel in 2008, and this August passed 4 million subscribers. While introductory computer science, math, and physics are the most-visited courses on the OCW website, the most popular YouTube videos reflect a more diverse range of interests, including a lecture about piloting a fighter jet aircraft, an introduction to the human brain, and an introduction to financial terms and concepts.

Through this extensive collection, Kasigazi explains that he’s been able to explore “the things I love,” while also studying cloud computing, data science, and AI — fields that he plans to pursue in graduate studies. He says, “This is what OpenCourseWare has enabled me to do: I get the chance to not only watch the future happen, but I can actually be a part of it and create it.”  

Understanding humanity through the liberal arts

When Kasigazi was young, a beloved aunt recognized his natural curiosity and steered him toward the best schools. “I owe her everything,” he says, “everything I am is because of her.” Thanks to his excellent grades he received an academic scholarship from the Ugandan government to attend Makerere University, one of the top universities in sub-Saharan Africa, where he earned a degree in information systems. Having pursued IT for its practical applications, Kasigazi admits that he was initially more interested in the science and theory behind computers than “the coding bits of it.”

“I love the concept of it — how we are trying to make these machines,” he says, explaining that he’s long been drawn to the social sciences and humanities, particularly psychology and philosophy.

“I’m interested in how we work as human beings, because everything we do is for, with, and around human beings,” says Kasigazi, who considers psychology to be foundational to almost every field. “Whatever it is you’re teaching these kids, they’re going to be dealing with people. So first teach them what people think, how they act — that was my drive to love psychology.”

Kasigazi has also turned to OCW to brush up on his coding skills, watching 6.0001 (Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python) lectures with Professor Ana Bell and reviewing the instructor-paced version with Professor Eric Grimson now on MITx. “I am proud to say MIT OCW has made me fall in love with coding … it makes sense like it never has before,” he says.

Nurturing a worldview

In 2014 Kasigazi moved to South Sudan, which had only recently emerged from a civil war as an independent nation. Fresh out of university, he was there to teach computer skills and graphic design — some of his students included members of the new country’s government — but his time in South Sudan quickly became a learning experience for him, too. “When you grow up in your community, you have this bubble. We all experience it — it’s a human thing,” he reflects. “For the first time, I realized that everything I knew is not a given. Everything I grew up knowing is not universal.”

With his worldview newly broadened, he began to nurture his interest in psychology, philosophy, and the sciences, watching crash courses, explainer videos, and other content on the subject. “It’s entertainment, to me, at the same time that it’s a passion,” he says. Today Kasigazi runs his own company, which he started in 2012 with friends and resumed when he returned to Uganda seven years ago.

Since coming across the OCW YouTube channel, Kasigazi has worked through all of the freely available MIT psychology courses. Professor John Gabrieli’s 9.00SC (Introduction to Psychology) have particularly resonated with him, even prompting him to reach out to Gabrieli. “As much as I’d been getting some knowledge on psychology over the years online, it wasn’t as deep and as interesting or captivating as your classes were,” he wrote. “From your teaching style, to the explanations, to the topics, to how you make people understand a topic, to the experiments mentioned and referenced, to how you approach questions and later make one think deeper about them.”

“The message from Emmanuel is deeply touching about the joy of learning,” says Gabrieli. “I am so grateful to OCW for making this course on psychology open to the world, and to Emmanuel for so delightfully sharing what this course meant to him.”

New courses are added regularly to both the OCW website and YouTube channel. Kasigazi, who’s currently enjoying Professor Nancy Kanwisher’s 9.13 (Introduction to the Human Brain), looks forward to discovering what new worlds of knowledge they’ll open.

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