Wednesday, May 2, 2012
NPR > Explosion In Free Online Classes May Change Course Of Higher Education
May 2, 2012 / 05:15 pm / NPR Staff
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are teaming up in a $60 million venture to provide classes online for free. The move is the latest by top universities to expand their intellectual reach through the Internet — a trend that is changing higher education.
Last month, Stanford, Princeton, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced that they were working with Coursera, a Silicon Valley startup, to put more than a dozen classes online this year in subjects ranging from computer science to public health to poetry.
Earlier this year, Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, one of the inventors of Google's self-driving car, announced he was leaving the school to start a company called Udacity, which would hire world-class professors from leading universities to create free online classes.
Wednesday's announcement was a bit different. Harvard and MIT are creating a nonprofit called edX; the universities are investing $30 million each — significantly more than what has been raised by their West Coast for-profit competitors.
Henn says Harvard and MIT also pledged to release their software for free when it's fully developed, as an open-source product for anyone to use.
Interactive quizzes and other tools have made it possible to deliver a class that really has value to hundreds of thousands of students, Henn says.
"Perhaps some day there may be people who never leave their basement," Henn says. "I think at this point, there are many thousands more people around the world [for whom this provides] a window that opens and allows them to see a bigger, broader piece of the world than they could before."
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