Friday, April 13, 2012

Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls


[snip]
Welcome to the brave new world of Massive Open Online Courses — known as MOOCs — a tool for democratizing higher education. While the vast potential of free online courses has excited theoretical interest for decades, in the past few months hundreds of thousands of motivated students around the world who lack access to elite universities have been embracing them as a path toward sophisticated skills and high-paying jobs, without paying tuition or collecting a college degree. [snip].
Consider Stanford’s experience: Last fall, 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence course taught by Mr. Thrun and Peter Norvig, a Google colleague. [snip].
[snip]
Besides the Artificial Intelligence course, Stanford offered two other MOOCs last semester — Machine Learning (104,000 registered, and 13,000 completed the course), and Introduction to Databases (92,000 registered, 7,000 completed). And this spring, the university will have 13 courses open to the world, including Anatomy, Cryptography, Game Theory and Natural Language Processing.
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For many of the early partisans, the professed goal is more about changing the world than about making money. But Udemy, a startup with backing from the founders of Groupon, is hoping that wide use of its site could ultimately generate profits. And Mr. Thrun’s new company, Udacity, which is supported by Charles River Ventures, plans to, essentially, monetize its students’ skills — and help them get jobs — by getting their permission to sell leads to recruiters.
[snip]
On Feb. 13, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has been posting course materials online for 10 years, opened registration for its first MOOC, a circuits and electronics course. The course will serve as the prototype for its MITx project, which will eventually offer a wide range of courses and some sort of credential for those who complete them.
The Georgia Institute of Technology is running an experimental two-semester MOOC, known as Change 11, a free-floating forum that exists more in the online postings and response of the students — only two of whom are getting Georgia Tech credit — than in the formal materials assigned by a rotation of professors. [snip]
Udemy recently announced a new Faculty Project, in which award-winning professors from universities like Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and Northwestern offer free online courses. Its co-founder, Gagen Biyani, said the site has more than 100,000 students enrolled in its courses, including several, outside the Faculty Project, that charge fees.
Experts say several factors have helped propel MOOCs to the center of the education stage, including improved technology and the exploding costs of traditional universities.
[snip]
Five years ago, George Siemens started a MOOC on what was happening in open education, hoping to do for teaching what M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare had done for content: it attracted 2,300 participants, with a syllabus translated into several languages. Mr. Siemens, a professor at Athabasca University, a publicly-supported online Canadian institution, said it was quickly apparent that the format created distinctive social networks, as students carried on wide-ranging discussions on their own.
[snip]
The current, more technically focused MOOCs are highly automated, with computer-graded assignment and exams. But there is still plenty of room for social interaction. The Stanford MOOCs, for example, included virtual office hours and online discussion forums where students could ask and answer questions — and vote on which were important enough to filter up the professor.
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