Monday, December 31, 2007

Strang's Classroom is the World

Just a quick note of an interesting article in the Denver Post a few days ago that discusses the increasing number of options for "attending" courses at various colleges and universities via the Internet for free. There's not a lot new here, as they talk about the usual suspects: MIT's OpenCourseWare and similar offerings from other universities, iTunes U, UC Berkeley lectures on YouTube, etc.

But I thought it was worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, because I'm seeing more and more stories like this in the mainstream press - not in the technology section of the particular publication, but in the general news session (this particular article was filed under "World News"). That seems to indicate a more general acceptance of this as appealing to a wide audience - it's newsworthy for everyone, not just for tech folks.

Second, there were a few quotes that I wanted to pull out. Emphasis in each quote added by me:

"It's almost as good as being there," said Whelan, the Massachusetts retiree, of the MIT classes he has sampled. "The only thing that's lacking is the pressure." He says he usually doesn't do the homework assignments, but adds: "Now that I'm not in school, I don't have to do that anymore."

. . . Figures from the Sloan Consortium, an online learning group, report about 3.5 million students are signed up for at least one online course—or about 20 percent of all students at degree-granting institutions.

. . . But MIT's 2001 debut of OpenCourseWare epitomized a key insight: Elite universities can separate their credential from their teaching—and give at least parts of their teaching away as a public service. They aren't diminishing their reputations at all. In fact, they are expanding their reach and reputation.

. . . "If you're going to work as a public health professional, you need the certification," Carson says. "If you're working in a community"—say, in Africa—"you don't need the certification. You just need access to the information."

. . . Fears that technology would hurt class attendance have proved unfounded, at least at MIT, where 96 percent of instructors reported no decline.

. . . "My life is in teaching," [Strang] says. "To have a chance do that with a world audience is just wonderful."

I think we may have passed the tipping point where folks no longer find this unusual, but instead assume that it's just part of the landscape of higher education. And I, of course, would argue that it's part of the landscape of K-12 (or at least should be). Everything I chose to emphasize in italics above echoes what we've been talking about these last few years - now we need to figure out how to do it really, really well.


  1. Did you review any of these courses that you recommend? I looked at a few to see if they would be useful for high school age students and I am still looking.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Karl,
    Happy New Year!
    I am a HS math/AP Comp Sci teacher and am working on my doctorate in computing at Pace University in an online blended program, which means the courses are online with 6 face-to-face class meetings per semester. I can tell you that the quality of the program is excellent and the coursework extremely rigorous.
    There is a good deal of new research indicating the reputation and success of these online courses and programs ("clicks") is directly correlated to the reputation and success of the institution delivering them ("bricks"). People wouldn't bat an eye at the MIT program, but Pheonix? That is a different story.
    It is also important to note that the cost in dollars and human resources highter education instutions incur to put together these quality programs is tremendous - much more than most public k-12 institutions can manage. School districts that are truly interested developing online learning would be wise to try to form a consortium of neighboring school districts to share valuable resources. It is a great idea, unfortunately with a corresponding price tag. Thanks for sharing.

  3. @susan I think there are a few courses in MIT's OpenCourseWare in math and science that would be helpful to some of our juniors and seniors, and certainly some that would be helpful for their teachers to explore if they're interested. But I wasn't suggesting so much that our students should be taking advantage of the current offerings (and I think they'll get better), just that this was becoming much more mainstream and therefore we need to be ready to deal with it.

    @nuthouse103 I know, some folks have poured some serious money into some of these projects (which I think is another indication that at least some people think this is a logical next step). But I think we can still figure out some ways to do things really, really well on even limited budgets, and start to figure out what the best practices are for online (or hybrid) courses.

    I'm not convinced that totally online is the way to go (at least not yet), but I think there are so many opportunities to take advantage of the online environment and offer the best of online and face-to-face simultaneously.

    As far as the quality of the institution, I would agree to a certain extent. I would put more emphasis on the quality of the offerings, however, than the institution itself. MIT is good not just because it has the rep and the certification, but because of what they've done over the years (and the people they have doing it). I think that technology and the Internet is going to level the playing field in this area as well, and some other "institutions" will have the opportunity to show their stuff and "compete" more successfully with the MIT's of the world. What's to stop an MIT professor from doing some freelance work - or branching out on her own?

    Since I've attended both MIT and the University of Phoenix, I would agree that MIT is better. But I don't think that just because that's the case now a UOP - or somebody similar (for example, Pace) - can't get better in a hurry. It's going to be interesting.