Jul 24, 2012 1:33 AM GMT
Depending on your outlook, these are scary or breathtakingly amazing times for educators.
A dozen major research universities, including Georgia Tech, Princeton, Duke, Johns Hopkins and the University of Virginia, announced plans last week to offer 100 free online courses that will enable millions worldwide to take the same classes as students at elite U.S. campuses.
The announcement by Coursera, a year-old company founded by two Stanford professors, represents a giant leap forward in the expanding inventory of what has become known as MOOCs — massive open online courses.
“I think this is the most remarkable social development certainly of the last few years,” said Eric D. Fingerhut at a Brookings Institution panel last week. The former chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Fingerhut is vice president of education and STEM learning for the research firm Batelle. [...]
Thrun refined the online version of the class, spending as much as 10 to 15 hours recording a single lesson. Two thousand volunteer translators translated the class into 44 languages. Discussion groups sprang up at Facebook.
Thrun was teaching more people online than attended all of Stanford. At the same time that he was teaching artificial intelligence online, he was also teaching the course to his usual 200 Stanford students. But within a few weeks, attendance had dwindled to 30 students.
He asked students why they were missing class. The Stanford students told Thrun they preferred him on video where they could rewind him.
Stunned by the appetite around the world and at Stanford for quality online classes, Thrun launched Udacity, an online university that now offers 11 free computer science courses.
While higher education has been the leader in online education, Fingerhut said there are efforts under way to entice high school students to take online college-level courses, including those offered at Udacity.
A decade ago, 50,000 students in k-12 schools were enrolled in distance learning. Today, the number is at a million, but the research thus far suggests that online courses are not as effective with younger learners.
“Is it perfect? It is not perfect yet. This is the stone age of this development,” Fingerhut said. “But it is an exciting development and it is changing the world.”