The launch of the Windows 8 tablet (Microsoft Surface) has once again brought attention to the portability of knowledge at our finger tips. With the lightness of a book and computing power of a full laptop computer (almost!) iPads, Samsung tablets, Amazon Fire tablets and a plethora of Android based tablets have made the consumption of information effortless. Unlike their smaller cousin – the smartphone – the tablet has generous screen real estate and this makes things easy to read.
Right now is a great time to be a student on a budget. The trend of portable devices alongside websites like Udemy.com are bringing learning to everyone.
However the expansion of online courses raises questions about what traditional education institutes offer for high fees. Top tier education institutes have started giving away their content for free. They are drawing cash-strapped yet potential students worldwide by offering them their courses online in an effort to test how their scholarship and expertise can be broadcast to a global audience.
A recent BBC article tells that Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have formed a $60m alliance to launch edX – a platform to deliver courses online – with the modest ambition of “revolutionizing education around the world”.
With roots in Silicon Valley, Stanford academics have set up another online platform, Coursera, which will provide courses from Stanford and Princeton and other leading US universities.
Anant Agarwal, Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory quoted a statistic that embodies this game changing plan – “The first online course from MITx earlier this year had more students than the entire number of living students who have graduated from the university.”
The internet provides an unprecedented opportunity for extending the reach of educators. As an example of how courses might be delivered, the MITx prototype taught an electronics course using an interactive virtual laboratory, e-textbooks, online discussions and video lectures. Assessment of the course, which took 10 hours per week, was entirely automated.
If content is free what else are universities offering? Is it the interactions with staff? Or is it the time with other students? Is it something to put on a CV? In my opinion there will always be demand for courses from a top tier university. The brand name on your CV and campus links will give you a leg up.
Teaching online has it’s share of problems.
Watching a lecture online is not the same as being in class. Although given the time pressure lecturers are under, an online lecture does seem to make sense. Additionally, assessing large numbers of online learners is a challenge – and edX is a laboratory to see how this can be addressed.
It is the 2nd and 3rd tier colleges that will really struggle. Students will ask – What is a lifetime of debt going to get me? In each school year between 2000–2001 and 2006–2007, an estimated 60% of bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed to fund their education. Average debt per borrower rose 18%, from $19,300 to $22,700 over this time period. Average debt per bachelor’s degree recipient increased from $10,600 to $12,400. (Source: The College Board, Trends in Student Aid, 2008)
One answer is using simulations. Although these cannot be applied to all subjects, teaching business with simulations can address some of these problems. Simulations can help deliver learning online, they can help grade and deal with large number of students. Simulations also make it possible for the educator to stay relevant by helping them translate their experiences, opinions and critical abilities into guidance for the student. This model is not new and some high schools currently use it alongside the video tutorials of the Khan Academy.
A proven model, we simply need to apply it to college education.