Online Education Finds Allies in Tech and Academia
The Siege of Academe: Silicon Valley’s fight to disrupt higher education
via Washington Monthly
If you follow the money in Silicon Valley, you’ll likely find yourself in a classroom. Or a study group. Or a textbook store. All of the virtual variety, of course. That’s because right now, the tech capitol’s venture capitalists are betting on education as the next industry to explode. Education is just the latest to be touched, and as software transforms society sector by sector, new technologies fall into two categories: “disruptive” and “sustaining” innovation.
In this essay, we learn about the disruptive platforms changing higher education. These changes include robust new offerings in inexpensive online courses, making education accessible to all. Perhaps most significant is rethinking how professional credentials are defined and who has the power to appoint them.
From the piece: “The disruptive power of information technology may be our best hope for curing the chronic college cost disease that is driving a growing number of students into ruinous debt or out of higher education altogether. It may also be an existential threat to institutions that have long played a crucial role in American life.” Those of us who recognize the equalizing, open info ecosystem of the Internet are encouraged by this vision. Quality education available to all who seek it.
A sociology professor at Princeton teaching a free online course in intro sociology shares his experience in a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He expected there’d be differences in teaching the noncredit course (a collaboration between Princeton and social online learning company Coursera) from the live lecture course, but he quickly realized he couldn’t have predicted how they’d differ.
When he might normally get at most a handful of probing questions during a lecture, he was getting hundreds and thousands from students from more than 100 countries around the world. And while he couldn’t read all the comments, he found study groups popping up and students engaging one another. He received instant feedback pointing to course topics that were resonating most with students. He was impressed not only with the study groups forming but the long-lasting relationships and ongoing dialogues sparked. Any suspicions that opening the course to international students of all backgrounds might weaken the student pool were ruled out.
The professor wrote: “I had begun worrying about how I could bring the New Jersey campus experience to them; I ended by thinking about how to bring the world back to the classroom in Princeton.”
Take an Ivy League Class for Free
On the flip side, we get a student perspective of an online higher ed course. By some strange coincidence, this student is an SEO company co-founder. In week three of a ten-week intro to finance course at University of Michigan through Coursera, he says he’s mastering the concepts thanks to a passionate professor who understands what’s necessary for teaching and learning online. For instance, the online course takes place in “real-time,” concurrent with the classroom course. Online students collaborate with classroom students through discussion forums. Student interaction is thriving online. The author has even signed up for two more classes next semester, evidence of his buying into the new educational model. The course subjects are “gamification” and “networked life” — talk about topics born of today’s world and interests.
In the SEO industry, we see online course offerings all the time. Free video tutorials are an educational channel for companies interested in broadening reach among an audience of DIYers and self-motivated learners. A seven-session video course on SEO for small business was recently scheduled by JM Internet Group. The videos and a library of SEO educational material are available on YouTube. Of course, videos are also a content asset for any business which should not be overlooked, in terms of meeting both audience and search engine needs.
A First for Udacity
Finally, let’s take a look at the first for-credit online university course to come out of the current movement. Udacity is one of the start-up online education companies in the Silicon Valley mix. Colorado State will accept three transfer credits for the Udacity course Introduction to Computer Science: Building a Search Engine. The course is free, however a certificate of accomplishment required for transfer credit is awarded upon passing a test with an $89 fee. Compared to traditional educational costs, this remains accessible to most; 98,000 students from around the world and of all ages are enrolled in the course.
While some universities in Europe have given transfer credit for massive open online courses (MOOCs) University of Colorado has taken the first step toward legitimizing the new learning model in America. The course professor, David Evans, spoke of the paradigm shift positively: “It’s recognizing that students really can learn well in online courses that are structured in the right way and have the rigor traditional universities expect.”
These new innovations in education may be considered disruptive, but it appears they’re proving constructive to higher learning the world over.