Wednesday, May 2, 2012

CHE > Open Education's Wide World of Possibilities

Skal Bzang Tse Brtan (Gago) grew up herding yaks in Tibet. He now leads education projects in his home region and studies HTML and modern poetry online through Yale U.'s open classes.

April 29, 2012 / Katherine Mangan

In the four years that his modern-poetry course has been offered free online, Langdon Hammer, a professor of English at Yale University, has gotten a kick out of the e-mails he has received from students around the world.

"Every week or so I get a message from someone somewhere who's listening to the lectures and wants to get in touch,"  ... . Then one day an e-mail arrived with a subject line that read "yak herder in Tibet."

"That one really stood out," Mr. Hammer says.

It was from Skal Bzang Tse Brtan, who grew up herding yaks in a nomadic Tibetan community. The 26-year-old, who goes by "Gago," composed poetry in his native language during the hours spent crisscrossing the alpine grasslands that swayed in the springtime and froze in the winter.

When he was 14, his parents sold their herd so he could attend school, but he missed the nomadic way of life that was becoming threatened as the grasslands disappeared. Now he leads cultural-preservation and education projects in the region where he grew up. He stumbled on Yale's open classes after seeing a reference on a Chinese Web site, and before long he was spending his evenings poring over lessons in "Philosophy of Love in the Western World," basic HTML, and modern poetry.


At a time when higher-education costs are soaring beyond the reach of many people, millions of students worldwide are tapping into free courses offered by such institutions as Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, and start-ups like Peer 2 Peer University and


Meanwhile, Apple's free iTunes U program, through which much of the open courseware available today is posted, has logged 700 million downloads of course material since 2007, according to a company spokesman. [snip].


Open courses offered through iTunes or directly by universities often remain online for five or six years. As the courses, and the technology that supports them, have become more sophisticated, materials have expanded from simple audio podcasts to include videotaped lectures, assigned readings, computer-graded tests, and optional study groups ... . MIT's newest platform, MITx, and Udacity, a new company founded by a Stanford professor to offer free online courses, are both taking the open-courseware movement a step further, offering credentials to students who successfully complete courses.


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