Photo: Peter Gene

Call me a slow learner or a late adopter, but I just discovered iTunesU.

Nobody will grant you a degree for checking out these podcasts and video lectures, but you’ll be a bit smarter about the world after listening to them.

And bonus? They’re free.

1. Chomsky on Gaza

A lecture from America’s most and least favored intellectual (especially since the death of Howard Zinn), Chomsky’s lecture on Gaza, available as both a video lecture and a podcast, will take up about two hours of your day. That may seem like a lot of time, but breaking down the Gaza situation has taken plenty of other people years to understand and summarize.

Chomsky does a pretty good job of distilling the high (and low) points of the conflict, and though plenty of listeners will take issue with Chomsky’s political leanings and sympathies, it’s important–particularly in this conflict–to get a handle on all sides’ arguments.

2. Design as Activism

This nine part video lecture series presented by the University of California, Davis, may seem highly specialized for urban planners, but it appeals to my frustrated inner architect. Each video lecture ranges in length from 37 to 52 minutes, touching on topics like “Architecture and Social Change” and “Designing with Humanity: Using Design to Advocate for Change.”

The relevance of the series seems obvious, what with reconstruction efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in Haiti following the January 12 earthquake.

3. CSIS: Center for Strategic and International Studies’ podcasts

I was curious about the innocuous sounding CSIS and so I clicked through to their website to learn it’s a bipartisan policy group that’s a who’s who of older American white men receiving at least 43% of its funding from corporations.

That icky disclosure being made, I still find tremendous value in their podcasts, of which there are hundreds on topics as diverse as global energy, drug trafficking, the international economy, human rights, and health. Even if CSIS is the “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” as a friend said, it’s good to know what the wolf’s wearing, right?

4. Brown University’s “The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons”

With this week’s news that Iran is stepping up its nuclear program, now seems like a pretty good time to learn more about nuclear issues. There are 28 mini-lectures in this series, each of which maxes out at about two minutes in length.

The program includes both historical perspectives (“What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?”) and contemporary concerns (“What would happen in the Middle East if Iran had a nuclear weapon?”), as well as information that was obscure to me, like “Why did Brazil end its nuclear weapons program?”.

5. Open University’s International Development Series

Available as video lectures and podcasts, the Open University’s series on international development touches on poverty, education, health, environmental sustainability, and human rights, tackling these macro issues from a micro, hyper-local perspective, as in “London’s Greek Community.”

6. Yale University

I could spend hours listening to lectures on topics as specialized as “Issues in Jamaican Legal Reform,” “Censorship and Speech in Bangladesh,” and “Iraqi Women’s Ordeal Under Occupation.” Several hundred lectures offered completely free will keep you busy for a while.

Community Connection:

Looking for more learning resources? Check out our Focus Pages, where we’ve collected thousands of resources on topics like Language Learning, Study Abroad, and Travel Reading.