December 19, 2007
At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star
By SARA RIMER
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.
Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.
“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.
Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”
Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.
In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.
He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.
He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.
Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.
M.I.T. recently expanded its online classes by opening a site aimed at high school students and teachers. Judging from his fan e-mail, Professor Lewin, who is among those featured on the new site, appeals to students of all ages.
Some of his correspondents compare him to Richard Feynman, the free-spirited, bongo-playing Nobel laureate who popularized physics through his books, lectures and television appearances.
With his wiry grayish-brown hair, his tortoiseshell glasses and his intensity, Professor Lewin is the iconic brilliant scientist. But like Julia Child, he is at once larger than life and totally accessible.
“We have here the mother of all pendulums!” he declares, hoisting his 6-foot-2, 170-pound self on a 30-pound steel ball attached to a pendulum hanging from the ceiling. He swings across the stage, holding himself nearly horizontal as his hair blows in the breeze he created.
The point: that a period of a pendulum is independent of the mass — the steel ball, plus one professor — hanging from it.
“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts, as the classroom explodes in cheers.
“Hi, Prof. Lewin!!” a fan who identified himself as a 17-year-old from China wrote. “I love your inspiring lectures and I love MIT!!!”
A fan who said he was a physics teacher from Iraq gushed: “You are now my Scientific Father. In spite of the bad occupation and war against my lovely IRAQ, you made me love USA because you are there and MIT is there.”
Professor Lewin revels in his fan mail and in the idea that he is spreading the love of physics. “Teaching is my life,” he said.
The professor, who is from the Netherlands, said that teaching a required course in introductory physics to M.I.T. students made him realize “that what really counts is to make them love physics, to make them love science.”
He said he spent 25 hours preparing each new lecture, choreographing every detail and stripping out every extra sentence.
“Clarity is the word,” he said.
Fun also matters. In another lecture on pendulums, he stands back against the wall, holding a steel ball at the end of a pendulum just beneath his chin. He has just demonstrated how potential energy turns into kinetic energy by sending the ball flying across the stage, shattering a pane of glass he had bolted to the wall.
Now he will demonstrate the conservation of energy.
“I am such a strong believer in the conservation of energy that I am willing to risk my life for it,” he says. “If I am wrong, then this will be my last lecture.”
He closes his eyes, and releases the ball. It flies back and forth, stopping just short of his chin.
“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts. “And I’m still alive!”
Chasing rainbows hooked Mr. Boigon, the San Diego florist. He was vacationing in Hawaii when he noticed the rainbow outside his hotel every afternoon. Why were the colors always in the same order?
When he returned home, Mr. Boigon said in a telephone interview, he Googled rainbows. Within moments, he was whisked to M.I.T. Lecture Hall No. 26-100. Professor Lewin was in front of a few hundred students.
“All of you have looked at rainbows,” he begins. “But very few of you have ever seen one. Seeing is different than looking. Today we are going to see a rainbow.”
For 50 minutes, he bounds across the stage, writing equations on the blackboard and rhapsodizing about the “amazing” and “beautiful” physics of rainbows. He explains how the colors always appear in the same order because of how light refracts and reflects in the water droplets.
For the finale, he creates a rainbow by shining a bright light into a glass sphere containing a single drop of water.
“There it is!” Professor Lewin cries.
“Your life will never be the same,” he tells his students. “Because of your knowledge, you will be able to see way more than just the beauty of the bows that everyone else can see.”
“Professor Lewin was correct,” Mr. Boigon wrote in an e-mail message to a reporter. “He made me SEE ... and it has changed my life for the better!!”
“I had never taken a course in physics, or calculus, or differential equations,” he wrote to Professor Lewin. “Now I have done all that in order to be able to follow your lectures. I knew the name Isaac Newton, but nothing about Newtonian Mechanics. I had heard of the likes of Einstein, Galileo.” But, he added that he “didn’t have a clue on earth as to what they were all about.”
“I walk down the street analyzing the force of a boy on skateboard or the recoil of a carpenter using a nail gun,” he wrote. “Thank you with all my heart.”
An Open Mind
By KATIE HAFNER
At 83, Marian C. Diamond has been teaching anatomy at the University of California, Berkeley, for 50 years. Her class is so popular that it’s difficult for students to get in, though she holds court at the campus’s largest lecture hall, with room for 736.
She begins by opening a colorful hatbox. Dressed in an elegant suit and scarf with her hair swept back into a chignon, Professor Diamond pulls on a pair of latex gloves and reveals the box’s contents: a human brain. It is in alcohol, she says, “because alcohol will preserve the brain. Need I say more?” The students laugh as they take this in. She has the room in the palm of her hands.
Professor Diamond is one of the tweedy celebrities of cyberspace. Videos of her anatomy course, Integrative Biology 131, have been viewed nearly 1.5 million times on YouTube, where they have been available since 2005 to anyone with an Internet connection. Some of the world’s foremost scholars are up there for viewing, tuition free. From Yale, you can tune into an economics class by a professor with his own home-price index, Robert Shiller, or a course by the Milton scholar John Rogers. The undisputed rock star academic is Walter H. G. Lewin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who flies across the room to demonstrate that a pendulum swings no faster or slower when there is an added mass (Professor Lewin) hanging at the end.
A decade has passed since M.I.T. decided to give much of its course materials to the public in an act of largesse. The M.I.T. OpenCourseWare Initiative helped usher in the “open educational resources” movement, with its ethos of sharing knowledge via free online educational offerings, including podcasts and videos of lectures, syllabuses and downloadable textbooks. The movement has also helped dislodge higher education from its brick-and-mortar moorings.
“Everyone is in one way or another doing O.E.R. today,” says Roger C. Schonfeld, research manager at Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit service that helps academic institutions use technology for research and teaching.
If the mission of the university is the creation of knowledge (via research) and the dissemination of knowledge (via teaching and publishing), then it stands to reason that giving that knowledge away fits neatly with that mission. And the branding benefits are clear.
The Open University, the distance-learning behemoth based in England, has vastly increased its visibility with open courses, which frequently show up in the Top 5 downloads on Apple’s iTunes U, a portal to institutions’ free courseware as well as marketing material. The Open University’s free offerings have been downloaded more than 16 million times, with 89 percent of those downloads outside the U.K., says Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the university. Some 6,000 students started out with a free online course before registering for a paid online course.
In December, iTunes U itself surpassed the 100 million download mark.
Undoubtedly, open educational resources have given higher education unprecedented reach.
So, a decade in, what has it taught us?
This is not an idle question.
Open course material on the Internet may be free, but getting it there definitely isn’t. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the principal financial backer of the open educational movement, has spent more than $110 million over the past eight years, with more than $14 million going to M.I.T. The cost of re-creating the educational experience is high. Only 33 of the 1,975 courses posted by M.I.T. have videos of lectures. Another hundred or so contain multimedia material like simulations and animations. The rest is simply text: syllabuses, class notes, reading lists, problem sets, homework assignments
Posted: Mon Sep 06, 2010 4:00 pm Post subject: EDUCATION
Harvard University - fee exemption for poors
Harvard University Announcement
FREE tuition and no student loans
Harvard University announced over the weekend that from now on undergraduate students from low-income families will pay no tuition . In making the announcement, Harvard's president Lawrence H . Summers said, "When only ten percent of the students in elite higher education come from families in the lower half of the income distribution, we are not doing enough . We are not doing enough in bringing elite higher education to the lower half of the income distribution . "
If you know of a family earning less than $60,000 a year with an honor student graduating from high school soon, Harvard University wants to pay the tuition . The prestigious university recently announced that from now on undergraduate students from low-income families can go to Harvard for free . . . no tuition and no student loans!
To find out more about Harvard offering free tuition for families making less than $60,000 a year, visit Harvard's financial aid website at: http://www.fao.fas.harvard.edu/ or call the school's financial aid office at (617) 495-1581 .
SEND TO SOMEONE WHETHER THEY CAN USE OR NOT . THEY JUST MIGHT KNOW SOMEONE WHO CAN
November 4, 2010
Learning in Dorm, Because Class Is on the Web
By TRIP GABRIEL
"Dozens of popular courses in psychology, statistics, biology and other fields are also offered primarily online. Students on this scenic campus of stately oaks rarely meet classmates in these courses.
Online education is best known for serving older, nontraditional students who can not travel to colleges because of jobs and family. But the same technologies of “distance learning” are now finding their way onto brick-and-mortar campuses, especially public institutions hit hard by declining state funds. At the University of Florida, for example, resident students are earning 12 percent of their credit hours online this semester, a figure expected to grow to 25 percent in five years.
This may delight undergraduates who do not have to change out of pajamas to “attend” class. But it also raises questions that go to the core of a college’s mission: Is it possible to learn as much when your professor is a mass of pixels whom you never meet? How much of a student’s education and growth — academic and personal — depends on face-to-face contact with instructors and fellow students?"
October 2, 2011
The University of Wherever
By BILL KELLER
FOR more than a decade educators have been expecting the Internet to transform that bastion of tradition and authority, the university. Digital utopians have envisioned a world of virtual campuses and “distributed” learning. They imagine a business model in which online courses are consumer-rated like products on Amazon, tuition is set by auction services like eBay, and students are judged not by grades but by skills they have mastered, like levels of a videogame. Presumably, for the Friday kegger you go to the Genius Bar.
It’s true that online education has proliferated, from community colleges to the free OpenCourseWare lecture videos offered by M.I.T. (The New York Times Company is in the game, too, with its Knowledge Network.) But the Internet has so far scarcely disturbed the traditional practice or the economics at the high end, the great schools that are one of the few remaining advantages America has in a competitive world. Our top-rated universities and colleges have no want of customers willing to pay handsomely for the kind of education their parents got; thus elite schools have little incentive to dilute the value of the credentials they award.
Two recent events at Stanford University suggest that the day is growing nearer when quality higher education confronts the technological disruptions that have already upended the music and book industries, humbled enterprises from Kodak to the Postal Service (not to mention the newspaper business), and helped destabilize despots across the Middle East.
One development is a competition among prestige universities to open a branch campus in applied sciences in New York City. This is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to create a locus of entrepreneurial education that would mate with venture capital to spawn new enterprises and enrich the city’s economy. Stanford, which has provided much of the info-tech Viagra for Silicon Valley, and Cornell, a biotechnology powerhouse, appear to be the main rivals.
But more interesting than the contest between Stanford and Cornell is the one between Stanford and Stanford.
The Stanford bid for a New York campus is a bet on the value of place. The premise is that Stanford can repeat the success it achieved by marrying itself to the Silicon Valley marketplace. The school’s proposal (unsubtly titled “Silicon Valley II”) envisions a bricks-and-mortar residential campus on an island in the East River, built around a community of 100 faculty members and 2,200 students and strategically situated to catalyze new businesses in the city.
Meanwhile, one of Stanford’s most inventive professors, Sebastian Thrun, is making an alternative claim on the future. Thrun, a German-born and largely self-taught expert in robotics, is famous for leading the team that built Google’s self-driving car. He is offering his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online and free of charge. His remote students will get the same lectures as students paying $50,000 a year, the same assignments, the same exams and, if they pass, a “statement of accomplishment” (though not Stanford credit). When The Times wrote about this last month, 58,000 students had signed up for the course. After the article, enrollment leapt to 130,000, from across the globe.
Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students. Testing, peer interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.
The traditional university, in his view, serves a fortunate few, inefficiently, with a business model built on exclusivity. “I’m not at all against the on-campus experience,” he said. “I love it. It’s great. It has a lot of things which cannot be replaced by anything online. But it’s also insanely uneconomical.”
Thrun acknowledges that there are still serious quality-control problems to be licked. How do you keep an invisible student from cheating? How do you even know who is sitting at that remote keyboard? Will the education really be as compelling — and will it last? Thrun believes there are technological answers to all of these questions, some of them
being worked out already by other online frontiersmen.
“If we can solve this,” he said, “I think it will disrupt all of higher education.”
Disrupt is right. It would be an earthquake for the majority of colleges that depend on tuition income rather than big endowments and research grants. Many could go the way of local newspapers. There would be huge audiences and paychecks for superstar teachers, but dimmer prospects for those who are less charismatic.
It’s ironic — or maybe just fitting — that this is playing out at Stanford, which has served as midwife to many disruptive technologies. By forging a symbiotic relationship with venture capital and teaching students how to navigate markets, Stanford claims to have spawned an estimated 5,000 businesses. This is a campus where grad school applicants are routinely asked if they have done a startup, and some professors have gotten very, very rich.
John Hennessy, Stanford’s president, gave the university’s blessing to Thrun’s experiment, which he calls “an initial demonstration,” but he is cautious about the grander dream of a digitized university. He can imagine a virtual campus for some specialized programs and continuing education, and thinks the power of distributed learning can be incorporated in undergraduate education — for example, supplanting the large lecture that is often filled with students paying more attention to their laptops. He endorses online teaching as a way to educate students, in the developing world or our own, who cannot hope for the full campus experience.
But Hennessy is a passionate advocate for an actual campus, especially in undergraduate education. There is nothing quite like the give and take of a live community to hone critical thinking, writing and public speaking skills, he says. And it’s not at all clear that online students learn the most important lesson of all: how to keep learning.
As The Times’s Matt Richtel recently reported, there is remarkably little data showing that technology-centric schooling improves basic learning. It is quite possible that the infatuation with technology has diverted money from things known to work — training better teachers, giving kids more time in school.
THE Stanford president is hardly a technophobe. Hennessy came up through computer engineering, used his sabbatical to start a successful microprocessor company, and sits on the boards of Google and Cisco Systems.
“In the same way that a lot of things go into the cost of a newspaper that have nothing to do with the quality of the reporting — the cost of newsprint and delivery — we should ask the same thing about universities,” Hennessy told me. “When is the infrastructure of the university particularly valuable — as it is, I believe, for an undergraduate residential experience — and when is it secondary to the learning process?”
But, he notes, “One has to think about the sustainability of all these things. In the end, the content providers have to get paid.”
I see a larger point, familiar to all of us who have lived through digital-age disorder. There are disrupters, like Sebastian Thrun, or Napster, or the tweeting rebels in Tahrir Square. And there are adapters, like John Hennessy, or iTunes, or the novice statesmen trying to build a new Egypt. Progress depends on both.
Who could be against an experiment that promises the treasure of education to a vast, underserved world? But we should be careful, in our idealism, not to diminish something that is already a wonder of the world.
Online education is not new. The University of Phoenix started its online degree program in 1989. Four million college students took at least one online class during the fall of 2007.
But, over the past few months, something has changed. The elite, pace-setting universities have embraced the Internet. Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments. Now online activity is at the core of how these schools envision their futures.
This week, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology committed $60 million to offer free online courses from both universities. Two Stanford professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, have formed a company, Coursera, which offers interactive courses in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and engineering. Their partners include Stanford, Michigan, Penn and Princeton. Many other elite universities, including Yale and Carnegie Mellon, are moving aggressively online. President John Hennessy of Stanford summed up the emerging view in an article by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker, “There’s a tsunami coming.”
What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web.
Many of us view the coming change with trepidation. Will online learning diminish the face-to-face community that is the heart of the college experience? Will it elevate functional courses in business and marginalize subjects that are harder to digest in an online format, like philosophy? Will fast online browsing replace deep reading?
If a few star professors can lecture to millions, what happens to the rest of the faculty? Will academic standards be as rigorous? What happens to the students who don’t have enough intrinsic motivation to stay glued to their laptop hour after hour? How much communication is lost — gesture, mood, eye contact — when you are not actually in a room with a passionate teacher and students?
The doubts are justified, but there are more reasons to feel optimistic. In the first place, online learning will give millions of students access to the world’s best teachers. Already, hundreds of thousands of students have taken accounting classes from Norman Nemrow of Brigham Young University, robotics classes from Sebastian Thrun of Stanford and physics from Walter Lewin of M.I.T.
Online learning could extend the influence of American universities around the world. India alone hopes to build tens of thousands of colleges over the next decade. Curricula from American schools could permeate those institutions.
Research into online learning suggests that it is roughly as effective as classroom learning. It’s easier to tailor a learning experience to an individual student’s pace and preferences. Online learning seems especially useful in language and remedial education.
The most important and paradoxical fact shaping the future of online learning is this: A brain is not a computer. We are not blank hard drives waiting to be filled with data. People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion. If you think about how learning actually happens, you can discern many different processes. There is absorbing information. There is reflecting upon information as you reread it and think about it. There is scrambling information as you test it in discussion or try to mesh it with contradictory information. Finally there is synthesis, as you try to organize what you have learned into an argument or a paper.
Online education mostly helps students with Step 1. As Richard A. DeMillo of Georgia Tech has argued, it turns transmitting knowledge into a commodity that is cheap and globally available. But it also compels colleges to focus on the rest of the learning process, which is where the real value lies. In an online world, colleges have to think hard about how they are going to take communication, which comes over the Web, and turn it into learning, which is a complex social and emotional process.
How are they going to blend online information with face-to-face discussion, tutoring, debate, coaching, writing and projects? How are they going to build the social capital that leads to vibrant learning communities? Online education could potentially push colleges up the value chain — away from information transmission and up to higher things.
In a blended online world, a local professor could select not only the reading material, but do so from an array of different lecturers, who would provide different perspectives from around the world. The local professor would do more tutoring and conversing and less lecturing. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School notes it will be easier to break academic silos, combining calculus and chemistry lectures or literature and history presentations in a single course.
The early Web radically democratized culture, but now in the media and elsewhere you’re seeing a flight to quality. The best American colleges should be able to establish a magnetic authoritative presence online.
My guess is it will be easier to be a terrible university on the wide-open Web, but it will also be possible for the most committed schools and students to be better than ever.
Andrew Ng is an associate professor of computer science at Stanford, and he has a rather charming way of explaining how the new interactive online education company that he cofounded, Coursera, hopes to revolutionize higher education by allowing students from all over the world to not only hear his lectures, but to do homework assignments, be graded, receive a certificate for completing the course and use that to get a better job or gain admission to a better school.
“I normally teach 400 students,” Ng explained, but last semester he taught 100,000 in an online course on machine learning. “To reach that many students before,” he said, “I would have had to teach my normal Stanford class for 250 years.”
Welcome to the college education revolution. Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary. The costs of getting a college degree have been rising faster than those of health care, so the need to provide low-cost, quality higher education is more acute than ever. At the same time, in a knowledge economy, getting a higher-education degree is more vital than ever. And thanks to the spread of high-speed wireless technology, high-speed Internet, smartphones, Facebook, the cloud and tablet computers, the world has gone from connected to hyperconnected in just seven years. Finally, a generation that has grown up on these technologies is increasingly comfortable learning and interacting with professors through online platforms.
The combination of all these factors gave birth to Coursera.org, which launched on April 18, with the backing of Silicon Valley venture funds, as my colleague John Markoff first reported.
Private companies, like Phoenix, have been offering online degrees for a fee for years. And schools like M.I.T. and Stanford have been offering lectures for free online. Coursera is the next step: building an interactive platform that will allow the best schools in the world to not only offer a wide range of free course lectures online, but also a system of testing, grading, student-to-student help and awarding certificates of completion of a course for under $100. (Sounds like a good deal. Tuition at the real-life Stanford is over $40,000 a year.) Coursera is starting with 40 courses online — from computing to the humanities — offered by professors from Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.
“The universities produce and own the content, and we are the platform that hosts and streams it,” explained Daphne Koller, a Stanford computer science professor who founded Coursera with Ng after seeing tens of thousands of students following their free Stanford lectures online. “We will also be working with employers to connect students — only with their consent — with job opportunities that are appropriate to their newly acquired skills. So, for instance, a biomedical company looking for someone with programming and computational biology skills might ask us for students who did well in our courses on cloud computing and genomics. It is great for employers and employees — and it enables someone with a less traditional education to get the credentials to open up these opportunities.”
M.I.T., Harvard and private companies, like Udacity, are creating similar platforms. In five years this will be a huge industry.
While the lectures are in English, students have been forming study groups in their own countries to help one another. The biggest enrollments are from the United States, Britain, Russia, India and Brazil. “One Iranian student e-mailed to say he found a way to download the class videos and was burning them onto CDs and circulating them,” Ng said last Thursday. “We just broke a million enrollments.”
To make learning easier, Coursera chops up its lectures into short segments and offers online quizzes, which can be auto-graded, to cover each new idea. It operates on the honor system but is building tools to reduce cheating.
In each course, students post questions in an online forum for all to see and then vote questions and answers up and down. “So the most helpful questions bubble to the top and the bad ones get voted down,” Ng said. “With 100,000 students, you can log every single question. It is a huge data mine.” Also, if a student has a question about that day’s lecture and it’s morning in Cairo but 3 a.m. at Stanford, no problem. “There is always someone up somewhere to answer your question” after you post it, he said. The median response time is 22 minutes.
These top-quality learning platforms could enable budget-strained community colleges in America to “flip” their classrooms. That is, download the world’s best lecturers on any subject and let their own professors concentrate on working face-to-face with students. Says Koller: “It will allow people who lack access to world-class learning — because of financial, geographic or time constraints — to have an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
When you consider how many problems around the world are attributable to the lack of education, that is very good news. Let the revolution begin.
If you or your kids have taken an online lesson at the Khan Academy (3,200 video lessons, 168 million views), been enlightened by a TED Talk (1,300 talks, 800 million views), watched a videotaped academic lecture (Academic Earth, Open Courseware Consortium, Open Culture), enrolled in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course, now being offered by companies like Udacity and a growing list of universities, including M.I.T., Harvard and Stanford), or simply learned to play guitar, paint a landscape or make a soufflé via YouTube - then you know that the distribution channels of education have changed - and that the future of learning is free and open.
This is good news for everyone, but it is particularly good for the vast number of people around the world whose job prospects are constrained by their skill levels and who lack the resources to upgrade them through conventional training. It's a problem that a company based in Ireland called ALISON - Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online - is helping to address with a creative model.
ALISON provides free online interactive education to help people acquire basic workplace skills. It's not a megasite. It has a million registered learners, the bulk of whom live in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Nigeria and the Middle East, where ALISON has 200,000 students. It is adding 50,000 learners each month, but the kinds of services it offers are likely to proliferate in the coming years.
To understand why, we only have to think back to last week, when the big news was the release of the June jobs report, which found that the unemployment rate had stalled disappointingly at 8.2 percent. As always, the story behind that number is more noteworthy than the political spin it gets. According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people in "management, business and financial operations" is nowhere near 8.2 percent; it's only 3.8 percent. For workers in "installation, maintenance and repair," it's 5.3 percent. It's workers in certain occupations - like "transportation and material moving" (10.3 percent unemployment) and "construction and extraction" (13 percent) - who are experiencing the most severe economic pain.
That's because the skills of many workers are increasingly out of sync with the demands of the job market, and the gap is likely to grow, particularly given that only a minority of companies provide formal training to employees. This isn't just an American problem, however. There are 200 million unemployed people around the world, 75 million of whom are youths, and many lack rudimentary workplace skills - the ability to use a computer, make a budget, communicate in an office environment. According to a study published last month by the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2020, the world will have a surplus of up to 95 million low-skill workers and a shortage of up to 40 million college graduates.
Free and open online education could help close this gap, but only if it's intentionally directed to the people around the world who most need it. Right now, a lot of free education is thrown online without a clear sense of how it will help people prepare themselves for employment. In May, Unesco, the branch of the United Nations that focuses on education, held an international gathering in China, where representatives concluded that the development of technical and vocational education and training - what one official called the "poor cousin of mainstream education" -- should be deemed a "top priority" to tackle global unemployment.
ALISON addresses this need. It offers some 400 vocational courses at "certificate level" (1 to 2 hours of study) or "diploma level" (about 9 to 11 hours of study) and plans to add 600 more in the coming year. Its most popular course, ABC IT, is a 15- to 20-hour training suite that covers similar ground to the widely recognized International Computer Driving License curriculum. (ALISON's certification is free; ICDL certification can cost over $500). Other popular offerings are project management, accounting, customer service, human resources, Microsoft Excel, health studies, basic study skills, operations management and psychology.
Last year, 50,000 users earned certificates or diplomas, which indicate that they completed courses and scored 80 percent or above on ALISON's online assessment. Employers can verify an applicant's knowledge with an online "flash test" of randomized questions (reminiscent of typing tests for stenographers). ALISON doesn't have the capacity to track its learners' career progress, but it has thousands of testimonials on its Web site. A typical example is one from Mariyam Thiseena, from the Maldives, who wrote: "I love ALISON because you give the feeling that even the poorest person deserves an education." (Thiseena wrote to me that she found ALISON through Google and is currently pursuing a diploma in environmental engineering.)
Another student, Zakiyu Iddris Tandunayir, from Accra, Ghana, completed a diploma in social media marketing. "I've been interested in social media for a long time," he told me by phone, "but when I discovered ALISON, I committed myself to it. I studied day in and day out. I passed my exam, then I set up a page on Facebook to do social media for businesses. I put my number in there and people started calling me." Tandunayir added that he has since received contracts worth $700. "For my eight years of Internet experience I have never felt the way I feel now," he commented.
ALISON is a for-profit social enterprise. "My vision is that all basic education and training is freely accessible online worldwide and accessible by everyone," explains the company founder Mike Feerick, who received an award last year from Unesco for innovation in online workplace education and has been recognized by Ashoka as a social entrepreneur. "Education underpins all social progress. If we can improve the general education level worldwide, global poverty can be dealt with profoundly and a general standard of living can be vastly improved."
Feerick says that the scope of the problem necessitates a business approach. There is not enough philanthropy, and perhaps not even enough government investment, to meet the world's workplace development needs. (Seven percent of the world's people currently have college degrees.) ALISON works to leverage and redirect the large supply of for-profit courses, searching for high-quality vocational offerings and inviting publishers to put some of their courses on ALISON, available free. For example, it carries hundreds of hours of English and French language instruction from the British Council and Alliance Francaise. (It never offers short "teaser" courses that link to paid sites, only modules at a minimum of a certificate level.) It hunts for courses that meet the specific needs of workers or employers in specific industries. For instance, it offers a 5 to 6 hour diploma in European Union public procurement, which sounds a bit dry - unless you're applying for a job in a company that hopes to win contracts from the E.U., in which case it is a standout credential.
Publishers agree to work with ALISON because the company generates business leads for them and shares its revenues, mostly from advertising, sales of certificates and token fees from learners. (A graduate can purchase a paper certificate for $30 or one on parchment for $120, and opt to pay for premium access that loads slightly more quickly and has no ads.) Given its model, the more ALISON grows, the more free courses it will be able to offer.
The decision to make everything on ALISON free remains the key factor that distinguishes the site from others of its type, and makes it globally valuable. (In addition to English, there are courses in French, Spanish, Farsi and Arabic, and the platform is going to be translated into Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.) Unlike academic instruction, which is increasingly free online - you can take hundreds of lessons in algebra or calculus at the Khan Academy - quality workplace skills training is usually pricey. So is certification. Sites like Lynda.com, which offer training in software tools, require a paid subscription. Udemy, a relatively new education company with some excellent free courses, charges fees for many courses that offer workplace skills. If you're a would-be programmer from Egypt, there is a world of difference between a free course in Microsoft Access and one that costs $99.
Just as there is great variability in teacher quality, online education is a mixed bag. "There's an enormous amount of learning out there," notes Feerick. "There's also an enormous amount of rubbish. It's hard to make out the difference if you don't know what's coming. We turn down a huge number of courses that are low quality." What does ALISON look for? Feerick's staff members ask the following. "Is it good content? Is it interactive? Does it ask you to do something? Sometimes the content really lends itself to video - like language learning where you need pronunciation help. Does it flow logically? Is the content from a reliable source? Is there a way to assess the learning?"
In the United States, ALISON is now offered through government workplace centers in 18 states. When a job seeker goes to EmployFlorida or Virginia Workforce Connection, for example, he or she can work with a counselor to survey the job market and assess skill gaps. The client may then be referred to traditional brick and mortar training or ALISON courses. ALISON also supplies digital literacy training to public schools in the United States.
Jaime Maniatis, the technology instructor at the Daylight/Twilight Alternative High School, in Trenton, N.J., which serves students who have previously dropped out, has been using its ABC IT course for a number of years. "It's accessible from any computer in the building," she said. "You can listen to it or read it, so it's good for E.S.L. students. It's interactive and has quizzes that help the students stay focused. And with all the cuts in education, it gives me security because I know I'll always be able to use it - because it's free." She added that this year, she plans to spend $165 for a premium service that is ad-free and allows her to track students' progress in three classrooms.
As the cost of formal education has skyrocketed and the job market continues to change at a rapid clip, the responsibility for keeping their skills up-to-date will likely fall more and more on individuals. Many will turn to online learning - for convenience and affordability. There are, of course, drawbacks to this. But there are advantages too - including the ability to work at your own pace and gain exposure to a broad array of topics. (The long tail of the Internet means that online courses can be highly specialized and still cost-effective. A university may offer a general electrical engineering course, but an online site can offer a course in how to operate a Siemens generator.) Perhaps the biggest advantage of online learning will be that women can more easily bypass the sexism and discrimination associated with traditional vocational education.
At ALISON, all students receive a learning record, a kind of archive of their response to life's vicissitudes. Feerick notes: "The record says, 'I might be 58 years of age, but I'm still learning.'"
By MARK EDMUNDSON
“AH, you’re a professor. You must learn so much from your students.”
This line, which I’ve heard in various forms, always makes me cringe. Do people think that lawyers learn a lot about the law from their clients? That patients teach doctors much of what they know about medicine?
Yet latent in the sentiment that our students are our teachers is an important truth. We do in fact need to learn from them, but not about the history of the Roman Empire or the politics of “Paradise Lost.” Understanding what it is that students have to teach teachers can help us to deal with one of the most vexing issues now facing colleges and universities: online education. At my school, the University of Virginia, that issue did more than vex us; it came close to tearing the university apart.
A few weeks ago our president, Teresa A. Sullivan, was summarily dismissed and then summarily reinstated by the university’s board of visitors. One reason for her dismissal was the perception that she was not moving forward fast enough on Internet learning. Stanford was doing it, Harvard, Yale and M.I.T. too. But Virginia, it seemed, was lagging. Just this week, in fact, it was announced that Virginia, along with a number of other universities, signed on with a company called Coursera to develop and offer online classes.
But can online education ever be education of the very best sort?
It’s here that the notion of students teaching teachers is illuminating. As a friend and fellow professor said to me: “You don’t just teach students, you have to learn ’em too.” It took a minute — it sounded like he was channeling Huck Finn — but I figured it out.
With every class we teach, we need to learn who the people in front of us are. We need to know where they are intellectually, who they are as people and what we can do to help them grow. Teaching, even when you have a group of a hundred students on hand, is a matter of dialogue.
In the summer Shakespeare course I’m teaching now, I’m constantly working to figure out what my students are able to do and how they can develop. Can they grasp the contours of Shakespeare’s plots? If not, it’s worth adding a well-made film version of the next play to the syllabus. Is the language hard for them, line to line? Then we have to spend more time going over individual speeches word by word. Are they adept at understanding the plot and the language? Time to introduce them to the complexities of Shakespeare’s rendering of character.
Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition. There is the basic melody that you work with. It is defined by the syllabus. But there is also a considerable measure of improvisation against that disciplining background.
Something similar applies even to larger courses. We tend to think that the spellbinding lecturers we had in college survey classes were gifted actors who could strut and fret 50 amazing minutes on the stage. But I think that the best of those lecturers are highly adept at reading their audiences. They use practical means to do this — tests and quizzes, papers and evaluations. But they also deploy something tantamount to artistry. They are superb at sensing the mood of a room. They have a sort of pedagogical sixth sense. They feel it when the class is engaged and when it slips off. And they do something about it. Their every joke is a sounding. It’s a way of discerning who is out there on a given day.
A large lecture class can also create genuine intellectual community. Students will always be running across others who are also enrolled, and they’ll break the ice with a chat about it and maybe they’ll go on from there. When a teacher hears a student say, “My friends and I are always arguing about your class,” he knows he’s doing something right. From there he folds what he has learned into his teaching, adjusting his course in a fluid and immediate way that the Internet professor cannot easily match.
Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue. The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms. This is particularly true of online courses for which the lectures are already filmed and in the can. It doesn’t matter who is sitting out there on the Internet watching; the course is what it is.
Not long ago I watched a pre-filmed online course from Yale about the New Testament. It was a very good course. The instructor was hyper-intelligent, learned and splendidly articulate. But the course wasn’t great and could never have been. There were Yale students on hand for the filming, but the class seemed addressed to no one in particular. It had an anonymous quality. In fact there was nothing you could get from that course that you couldn’t get from a good book on the subject.
A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates. You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will. Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.
Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Why Read?”
November 19, 2012
College of Future Could Be Come One, Come All
By TAMAR LEWIN
Teaching Introduction to Sociology is almost second nature to Mitchell Duneier, a professor at Princeton: he has taught it 30 times, and a textbook he co-wrote is in its eighth edition. But last summer, as he transformed the class into a free online course, he had to grapple with some brand-new questions: Where should he focus his gaze while a camera recorded the lectures? How could the 40,000 students who enrolled online share their ideas? And how would he know what they were learning?
In many ways, the arc of Professor Duneier’s evolution, from professor in a lecture hall to online instructor of tens of thousands, reflects a larger movement, one with the potential to transform higher education. Already, a handful of companies are offering elite college-level instruction — once available to only a select few, on campus, at great cost — free, to anyone with an Internet connection.
Moreover, these massive open online courses, or MOOCs, harness the power of their huge enrollments to teach in new ways, applying crowd-sourcing technology to discussion forums and grading and enabling professors to use online lectures and reserve on-campus class time for interaction with students.
There is no doubt that online education will level the ground for those in Third World countries (and even developed countries) who can not effort the high cost of Education or who live outside of the large cities.
Virtual class-rooms where students of many countries are sitting, networking, interacting and exchanging their views will propel the learning and application of knowledge to levels never reached or even imagined.
January 6, 2013
Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much Later
By TAMAR LEWIN
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — In August, four months after Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng started the online education company Coursera, its free college courses had drawn in a million users, a faster launching than either Facebook or Twitter.
The co-founders, computer science professors at Stanford University, watched with amazement as enrollment passed two million last month, with 70,000 new students a week signing up for over 200 courses, including Human-Computer Interaction, Songwriting and Gamification, taught by faculty members at the company’s partners, 33 elite universities.
In less than a year, Coursera has attracted $22 million in venture capital and has created so much buzz that some universities sound a bit defensive about not leaping onto the bandwagon.
LORD knows there’s a lot of bad news in the world today to get you down, but there is one big thing happening that leaves me incredibly hopeful about the future, and that is the budding revolution in global online higher education. Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.
Last May I wrote about Coursera — co-founded by the Stanford computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng — just after it opened. Two weeks ago, I went back out to Palo Alto to check in on them. When I visited last May, about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. Today, they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones.
Anant Agarwal, the former director of M.I.T.’s artificial intelligence lab, is now president of edX, a nonprofit MOOC that M.I.T. and Harvard are jointly building. Agarwal told me that since May, some 155,000 students from around the world have taken edX’s first course: an M.I.T. intro class on circuits. “That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history,” he said.
Yes, only a small percentage complete all the work, and even they still tend to be from the middle and upper classes of their societies, but I am convinced that within five years these platforms will reach a much broader demographic. Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic.
YOU just have to hear the stories told by the pioneers in this industry to appreciate its revolutionary potential. One of Koller’s favorites is about “Daniel,” a 17-year-old with autism who communicates mainly by computer. He took an online modern poetry class from Penn. He and his parents wrote that the combination of rigorous academic curriculum, which requires Daniel to stay on task, and the online learning system that does not strain his social skills, attention deficits or force him to look anyone in the eye, enable him to better manage his autism. Koller shared a letter from Daniel, in which he wrote: “Please tell Coursera and Penn my story. I am a 17-year-old boy emerging from autism. I can’t yet sit still in a classroom so [your course] was my first real course ever. During the course, I had to keep pace with the class, which is unheard-of in special ed. Now I know I can benefit from having to work hard and enjoy being in sync with the world.”
One member of the Coursera team who recently took a Coursera course on sustainability told me that it was so much more interesting than a similar course he had taken as an undergrad. The online course included students from all over the world, from different climates, incomes levels and geographies, and, as a result, “the discussions that happened in that course were so much more valuable and interesting than with people of similar geography and income level” in a typical American college.
Mitch Duneier, a Princeton sociology professor, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall about his experience teaching a class through Coursera: “A few months ago, just as the campus of Princeton University had grown nearly silent after commencement, 40,000 students from 113 countries arrived here via the Internet to take a free course in introductory sociology. ... My opening discussion of C. Wright Mills’s classic 1959 book, ‘The Sociological Imagination,’ was a close reading of the text, in which I reviewed a key chapter line by line. I asked students to follow along in their own copies, as I do in the lecture hall. When I give this lecture on the Princeton campus, I usually receive a few penetrating questions. In this case, however, within a few hours of posting the online version, the course forums came alive with hundreds of comments and questions. Several days later there were thousands. ... Within three weeks I had received more feedback on my sociological ideas than I had in a career of teaching, which significantly influenced each of my subsequent lectures and seminars.”
Agarwal of edX tells of a student in Cairo who was taking the circuits course and was having difficulty. In the class’s online forum, where students help each other with homework, he posted that he was dropping out. In response, other students in Cairo in the same class invited him to meet at a teahouse, where they offered to help him stay in the course. A 15-year-old student in Mongolia, who took the same class as part of a blended course and received a perfect score on the final exam, added Agarwal, is now applying to M.I.T. and the University of California, Berkeley.
As we look to the future of higher education, said the M.I.T. president, L. Rafael Reif, something that we now call a “degree” will be a concept “connected with bricks and mortar” — and traditional on-campus experiences that will increasingly leverage technology and the Internet to enhance classroom and laboratory work. Alongside that, though, said Reif, many universities will offer online courses to students anywhere in the world, in which they will earn “credentials” — certificates that testify that they have done the work and passed all the exams. The process of developing credible credentials that verify that the student has adequately mastered the subject — and did not cheat — and can be counted on by employers is still being perfected by all the MOOCs. But once it is, this phenomenon will really scale.
I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment. “There is a new world unfolding,” said Reif, “and everyone will have to adapt.”
March 5, 2013
The Professors’ Big Stage
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
I just spent the last two days at a great conference convened by M.I.T. and Harvard on “Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education” — a k a “How can colleges charge $50,000 a year if my kid can learn it all free from massive open online courses?”
You may think this MOOCs revolution is hyped, but my driver in Boston disagrees. You see, I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.
“Where did you get those?” I asked. Well, Sandel explained, he had recently been in South Korea, where his Justice course has been translated into Korean and shown on national television. It has made him such a popular figure there that the Koreans asked him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball game — and gave him the colored shoes to boot! Yes, a Harvard philosopher was asked to throw out the first pitch in Korea because so many fans enjoy the way he helps them think through big moral dilemmas.
Sandel had just lectured in Seoul in an outdoor amphitheater to 14,000 people, with audience participation. His online Justice lectures, with Chinese subtitles, have already had more than 20 million views on Chinese Web sites, which prompted The China Daily to note that “Sandel has the kind of popularity in China usually reserved for Hollywood movie stars and N.B.A. players.”
O.K., not every professor will develop a global following, but the MOOCs revolution, which will go through many growing pains, is here and is real. These were my key take-aways from the conference:
¶Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know. And therefore it will not pay for a C+ in chemistry, just because your state college considers that a passing grade and was willing to give you a diploma that says so. We’re moving to a more competency-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the competency — in an online course, at a four-year-college or in a company-administered class — and more demand to prove that you mastered the competency.
¶Therefore, we have to get beyond the current system of information and delivery — the professorial “sage on the stage” and students taking notes, followed by a superficial assessment, to one in which students are asked and empowered to master more basic material online at their own pace, and the classroom becomes a place where the application of that knowledge can be honed through lab experiments and discussions with the professor. There seemed to be a strong consensus that this “blended model” combining online lectures with a teacher-led classroom experience was the ideal. Last fall, San Jose State used the online lectures and interactive exercises of M.I.T.’s introductory online Circuits and Electronics course. Students would watch the M.I.T. lectures and do the exercises at home, and then come to class, where the first 15 minutes were reserved for questions and answers with the San Jose State professor, and the last 45 were devoted to problem solving and discussion. Preliminary numbers indicate that those passing the class went from nearly 60 percent to about 90 percent. And since this course was the first step to a degree in science and technology, it meant that one-third more students potentially moved on toward a degree and career in that field.
¶We demand that plumbers and kindergarten teachers be certified to do what they do, but there is no requirement that college professors know how to teach. No more. The world of MOOCs is creating a competition that will force every professor to improve his or her pedagogy or face an online competitor.
¶Bottom line: There is still huge value in the residential college experience and the teacher-student and student-student interactions it facilitates. But to thrive, universities will have to nurture even more of those unique experiences while blending in technology to improve education outcomes in measurable ways at lower costs. We still need more research on what works, but standing still is not an option.
Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor and expert on disruptive innovation, gave a compelling talk about how much today’s traditional university has in common with General Motors of the 1960s, just before Toyota used a technology breakthrough to come from nowhere and topple G.M. Christensen noted that Harvard Business School doesn’t teach entry-level accounting anymore, because there is a professor out at Brigham Young University whose online accounting course “is just so good” that Harvard students use that instead. When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over.
by DAVID BROOKS
The best part of the rise of online education is that it forces us to ask: What is a university for?
Are universities mostly sorting devices to separate smart and hard-working high school students from their less-able fellows so that employers can more easily identify them? Are universities factories for the dissemination of job skills? Are universities mostly boot camps for adulthood, where young people learn how to drink moderately, fornicate meaningfully and hand things in on time?
My own stab at an answer would be that universities are places where young people acquire two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge. Technical knowledge is the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task — the statistical knowledge you need to understand what market researchers do, the biological knowledge you need to grasp the basics of what nurses do.
Technical knowledge is like the recipes in a cookbook. It is formulas telling you roughly what is to be done. It is reducible to rules and directions. It’s the sort of knowledge that can be captured in lectures and bullet points and memorized by rote.
Right now, online and hybrid offerings seem to be as good as standard lectures at transmitting this kind of knowledge, and, in the years ahead, they are bound to get better — more imaginatively curated, more interactive and with better assessments.
The problem is that as online education becomes more pervasive, universities can no longer primarily be in the business of transmitting technical knowledge. Online offerings from distant, star professors will just be too efficient. As Ben Nelson of Minerva University points out, a school cannot charge students $40,000 and then turn around and offer them online courses that they can get free or nearly free. That business model simply does not work. There will be no such thing as a MOOC university.
Nelson believes that universities will end up effectively telling students: “Take the following online courses over the summer or over a certain period, and then, when you’re done, you will come to campus and that’s when our job will begin.” If Nelson is right, then universities in the future will spend much less time transmitting technical knowledge and much more time transmitting practical knowledge.
Practical knowledge is not about what you do, but how you do it. It is the wisdom a great chef possesses that cannot be found in recipe books. Practical knowledge is not the sort of knowledge that can be taught and memorized; it can only be imparted and absorbed. It is not reducible to rules; it only exists in practice.
Now I could give you a theory about how universities can transmit this sort of practical moral wisdom, but let’s save that. Let’s focus on practical wisdom in the modern workplace.
Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.
These skills are practical knowledge. Anybody who works in a modern office knows that they are surprisingly rare. But students can learn these skills at a university, through student activities, through the living examples of their professors and also in seminars.
Nelson’s venture, Minerva, uses technology to double down on seminars. Minerva is a well-financed, audacious effort to use technological advances to create an elite university at a much lower cost. I don’t know if Minerva will work or not, but Nelson is surely right to focus on the marriage of technology and seminars.
The problem with the current seminars is that it’s really hard to know what anybody gets out of them. The conversations might be lively, but they flow by so fast you feel as if you’re missing important points and exchanges.
The goal should be to use technology to take a free-form seminar and turn it into a deliberate seminar (I’m borrowing Anders Ericsson’s definition of deliberate practice). Seminars could be recorded with video-cameras, and exchanges could be reviewed and analyzed to pick apart how a disagreement was handled and how a debate was conducted. Episodes in one seminar could be replayed for another. Students could be assessed, and their seminar skills could be tracked over time.
So far, most of the talk about online education has been on technology and lectures, but the important challenge is technology and seminars. So far, the discussion is mostly about technical knowledge, but the future of the universities is in practical knowledge.
Carey spends a good chunk of “The End of College” exploring the new world of online learning, for instance. To that end, he took an online course — problem sets and exams included — offered by Eric Lander, the M.I.T. professor who was a principal leader of the Human Genome Project. It was, he concludes, a better experience than if he had sat in Lander’s classroom.
He expects that as more people take to online learning, the combination of massive amounts of data and advances in artificial intelligence will make it possible for courses to adapt to the way each student learns. He sees thousands of people around the world taking the same course and developing peer groups that become communities, like study groups at universities. “A larger and larger percentage of the education that has been historically confined to scarce, expensive colleges and universities will be liberated and made available to anyone, anywhere.” That’s what I mean when I say his vision is an idealistic one.
Amazon Unveils Online Education Service for Teachers
Just ahead of the back-to-school season, Amazon plans to make a major foray into the education technology market for primary and secondary schools, a territory that Apple, Google and Microsoft have heavily staked out.
Monday morning, Amazon said that it would introduce an online marketplace with tens of thousands of free lesson plans, worksheets and other instructional materials for teachers in late August or early September.
Called Amazon Inspire, the education site has features that may seem familiar to frequent Amazon shoppers. Search bar at the top of the page? Check. User reviews? Check. Star ratings for each product? Check.
By starting out with a free resources service for teachers, Amazon is establishing a foothold that could expand into a one-stop shopping marketplace — not just for paid learning materials, but for schools’ wider academic and institutional software needs, said Tory Patterson, co-founder of Owl Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in ed tech start-ups.
The Harvard Graduate School of Design is launching a web-based course that offers architectural education at no cost.
The Architectural Imagination course will allow students to "learn fundamental principles of architecture — as an academic subject or a professional career — from a study of history's important buildings", according to the website.
Spread over 10 modules, the programme is intended to be taken over the same number of weeks.
The first part will focus on form and history, the second on technology, and the third on representation and context.
Skills including architectural drawing and model making will be taught through a series of video presentations and hands-on exercises.
"In this course, you will learn how to 'read' architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement," says the description.
Participants will not earn any credentials, however a certificate of completion will be available to purchase for $99 (£79).
Today we officially launch The Learning Academy! Discover this new platform and innovate your way of learning.
The Learning Academy (TLA) is a technological platform that aims to link training and educational information programs with all interested users. This innovative platform aims to be a new way to contribute to the improvement of the skills of the whole Jamat, betting on training as a means for continuous learning throughout life.
The TLA fits the guidelines of Mawlana Hazar Imam on Life Long Learning (LLL). In his speech in Atlanta, at the Annual Meeting of the International Baccalaureate, in April 2008, he said: “But in an era of accelerated change, when even the most sophisticated skills are easily out of date, we will find many allies in the developing world that have come to understand that the most important competence that a person can acquire is the ability to continue learning. ” Thus, the TLA aims to contribute so that there are more and more members of the Community making use of learning opportunities throughout their lives.
This digital platform also aims to offer a rich and diverse range of educational content, which can be accessed by any member of Jamat so that it can enrich their training and knowledge. TLA is neither a school nor a university and will not teach. Thus, TLA intends to be a link between its users and a set of schools, universities and academic programs and to ensure that users can access their courses and explore new skills.
In fact, there is an increasing concern to develop new initiatives to captivate Jamat's interest and stimulate his training. In this way, the TLA will also be the primary place for promoting established partnerships, events to be developed, training courses and educational content.
The site is divided into eight areas, each with a distinct and relevant theme these days. Thus, all content will be grouped by areas, enabling the categorization and centralization of the content available, in order to ensure easier access.
The eight categories are as follows:
- Arts, aimed at artistic and cultural expression and knowledge;
- Business & Marketing, to immerse yourself in the Business World;
- Personal Development, to develop your personal skills and get to know yourself a little better;
- Education of Excellence, to promote constant and quality learning;
- Informatics, to keep abreast of new technologies and work on their skills on them;
- Lifestyle, aimed at moments of leisure, relaxation and also to improve your quality of life;
- Languages, to learn new languages ​​and thus be able to communicate with more people around the world;
- Health & Wellbeing, to focus on the most important: your health and well-being.
- In addition to being able to explore TLA based on its categories, on the website you will also find partnerships and agreements established between Jamat institutions and organizations and associations that offer courses and programs for TLA users, who will benefit from special conditions , which would not exist if they approached the school individually.
Furthermore, in an area called “Courses” you can discover and explore a selection of online courses and thus expand your knowledge and acquire new skills. You will find several courses such as computer science, languages, programming or even cooking, selected from the best websites and online platforms, in order to guarantee and maintain the quality expected in lifelong education.
Finally, you will find opinion articles from experts in different areas, tips from professionals to incorporate in your day-to-day, and you can also leave your suggestions, since TLA is a site made from people to people. As such, it is important to have the suggestions of users, in order to guarantee the offer of the best content to all our Jamat.
In this way, we invite you to visit The Learning Academy and explore all available resources, in order to expand your learning, knowledge and bet on continuous learning, so praised by Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Karibu to Endeleza Station, a space designed to provide curated resources, content and programming to keep you engaged and motivated. Staying at home right now gives us the opportunity to leverage great online resources and virtual platforms to continue our learning, stay active and send positive messages to each other. We're so glad you can join us as we engage with you digitally. Let's stay connected!
With so many resources available online, it can be daunting to go through and identify the quality ones. We've put together some of the best ones to help you stay busy, learn, and explore during this time!
We will probably remember 2020 as the time when distance education exploded. But the infrastructure that enabled this expansion was years in the making.
These days students, teachers, professors, and parents are figuring out an awful lot about how distance learning works. But teaching and learning remotely is not a brand-new thing. As microbiologist Roy D. Sleator writes, it’s actually much older than Zoom, Google Classroom, or even the internet itself.
Sleator begins the history of distance learning in 1728. That’s when shorthand teacher Caleb Phillips bought an ad in the Boston Gazette promising that students “may by having the several lessons sent weekly to them, be as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston.”
Correspondence courses didn’t really catch on until the nineteenth century, when improvements to the postal service made it practical.
Despite Phillips’s forward thinking, Sleator writes, correspondence courses didn’t really catch on until the nineteenth century, when improvements to the postal service made them practical. The Pittman Shorthand program, established in Cincinnati in 1852, allowed students to mail in their work and, upon successful completion of the course, receive a certificate of expertise.
While clerical skills might seem like a natural for classes conducted through the mail, would-be secretaries weren’t the only ones to turn to correspondence courses. In 1890, the Colliery School of Mines created a correspondence course on mine safety. Over the three decades that followed, it evolved into the International Correspondence School, which offered courses by mail for iron and railroad workers as well as miners. By 1923, it had 2.5 million students.
But by that time, Sleator writes, mail was losing its place as the dominant method of long-distance communication. Live radio shows allowed educators to talk directly to students at home, even if the broadcast only went one way. By 1923, more than 10 percent of broadcast radio stations were owned by educational institutions.
And then, of course, there was television. By 1934, the University of Iowa was broadcasting televised courses. Other colleges followed suit.
Sleator writes that in the 1960s the Carnegie Foundation funded work by Charles Wedemeyer at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to figure out how to best reach students at a distance. This became the Articulated Instructional Media Project (AIM), which inspired the British Open University, established in 1969. Similar open universities, using radio and TV technologies, popped up in other countries, including Spain and Canada.
Back in the United States in the 1980s, the National Technological University started using satellite TV to deliver a combination of live and recorded course material. It also let students call their instructors by phone and get questions answered on air in real time.
Soon after that came the technology we associate with distance learning today—the World Wide Web. Jones International University, the first completely internet-based higher education institution accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, opened in 1993. It offered five bachelor’s and twenty-four master’s degree programs.
From there, it wasn’t long until the rise of commercial online learning services like Blackboard and the adoption of “e-learning” across colleges and for some high school students as well.
In the decade since Sleator’s article was published, interest in distance learning has expanded. But that expansion surely pales in comparison with what’s happened just this spring.
The coronavirus forced a shift to virtual classes, but their continuation could be beneficial even after the pandemic ends.
Up until now, online education has been relegated to the equivalent of a hobby at most universities. With the pandemic, it has become a backup plan. But if universities embrace this moment strategically, online education could expand access exponentially and drop its cost by magnitudes — all while shoring up revenues for universities in a way that is more recession-proof, policy-proof and pandemic-proof.
To be clear, the scramble to move online over just a few days this March did not go well. Faculty members were forced to revamp lesson plans overnight. “Zoom-bombers” took advantage of lax privacy protocols. Students fled home, with many in faraway time zones prolonging jet lag just to continue synchronous learning. Not surprisingly, the experience for both students and faculty has left much to be desired. According to one survey, more than 75 percent of students do not feel they received a quality learning experience after classrooms closed.
But what surveys miss are the numerous spirited efforts to break new ground, as only a crisis can be the impetus for.
One professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts taught a drama course that allows students to “act” with each other in virtual reality using Oculus Quest headsets. A music professor at Stanford trained his students on software that allows musicians in different locations to perform together using internet streaming. Professors are pioneering new methods and ed-tech companies are developing platforms at a pace not seen before, providing a glimpse into the untapped potential of online education. Not to be forgotten, of course, is the fact that just a few years ago, a transition to online learning at the current scale would have been unimaginable.
Before the pandemic, most universities never truly embraced online education, at least not strategically. For years, universities have allowed professors to offer some courses online, making them accessible through aggregators such as edX or Coursera. But rarely do universities offer their most popular and prestigious degrees remotely. It is still not possible to get an M.B.A. at Stanford, a biology degree at M.I.T. or a computer science degree at Brown online.
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