Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Revolution in Higher Education is Underway

A few days ago, I reported on how MITx could revolutionize higher education by offering free online classes along with a new benefit: credentials. Beginning this spring, students will be able to take free, online courses from MIT, and if they prove they've learned the materi­al through an assessment, they can pay a fee and receive a certificate from MITx.  

In a related recent development, Felix Salmon and The Chronicle of Higher Education report this week that Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun, who taught an online artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students in the fall through Stanford, has given up his tenured teaching position there to go full-time with Udacity, a new start-up firm he co-founded that offers low-cost online classes.

From The Chronicle:
"Mr. Thrun told the crowd at the Digital–Life–Design conference in Munich, Germany that his move was motivated in part by teaching practices that evolved too slowly to be effective. During the era when universities were born, “the lecture was the most effective way to convey information. We had the industrialization, we had the invention of celluloid, of digitial media, and, miraculously, professors today teach exactly the same way they taught a thousand years ago,” he said.

He concluded by telling the crowd that he couldn’t continue teaching in a traditional setting. “Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again,” he said.

One of Udacity’s first offerings will be a seven-week course called “Building a Search Engine.” It will be taught by David Evans, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Virginia and a Udacity partner. Mr. Thrun said it is designed to teach students with no prior programming experience how to build a search engine like Google. He hopes 500,000 students will enroll.

Teaching the course at Stanford, Mr. Thrun said, showed him the potential of digital education, which turned out to be a drug that he could not ignore.

“I feel like there’s a red pill and a blue pill,” he said. “And you can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland.”
Watch his talk here.  More evidence that the revolution in higher education in underway. 


At 1/25/2012 5:11 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Udacity, very cool!

Thanks for the link...

At 1/25/2012 6:14 PM, Blogger Marko said...

Great idea. As I commented earlier, there are increasing numbers of people that don't want a degree or credential, they want to know how to do something so they can start their own business or make their own invention. This is where the real revolution lies!

At 1/25/2012 6:26 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

and even I will AGREE!


I still think there is a ways to go.

Let's say an engineering firm or Google or Microsoft are reading your resume....and trying to verify your education.

With a School Transcript for all the courses you took.. it suffices for evidence of your academic performance.

Suppose you had taken a bunch of online courses perhaps even from different places... and the prospective employer is trying to ascertain the courses with "tracks" and Pre-requisites ...etc.. etc..

it's kind of a mess if you went to more than one school anyhow...

to this point.. rightly or wrongly... there is a certain amount of confidence in getting one transcript from one college that shows the 100, 200,300 and 400 level courses.

Many employers say a BS with a focus area is minimum qualification.

that will have to change also, right?

So this is going to be a "revolution" in how education levels are ascertained also.

At 1/25/2012 6:27 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Seems to me these courses can be videotaped, and then put online, perhaps ultimately for free. Imagine the world's knowledge available to anyone with wi-fi.

The tough part comes in testing students, and making sure they know the material, and that they are who they say they are (in other words, very good ID).

Some will complain this is teaching to the test, but anonymous tests are fair. And if course material is designed to be tested, then meaningful.

Of course, if you are a pretty blonde with big boobs, I advise to enroll in every male profs class, and act nice, and do not take theses course online.

At 1/25/2012 6:47 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

I predict that certification will become a booming business and yes... when a Doctor or Lawyer or a Professional Engineers takes their tests... it's teaching to the test.

the other thing that I would observe is that there is indeed a difference in some professions between one or two years of specialized schooling ... and one like a Doctor where you need the BS, then Med School, then specialization then residency..

a long, long road... and I doubt seriously that we're going to see many Docs coming from taking online courses...but who knows?

there is a reason why the word "quack" does exist, eh?

and we don't want someone designing an interstate bridge whose qualifications are a bunch of online videos courses...

at some point - no matter how you got the education.. they're going to require a comprehensive evaluation of what you know and don't know before they let you slice into someone ....or design an airplane, etc...

At 1/25/2012 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the video of his talk and while there are good signs, for example, he realizes how bad the traditional model is and admits some mistakes, there are also some big problems. First off, an education in AI and CS is useless for most people, so all we have here is yet another self-indulgent slapping up of largely worthless university curricula online. Great for people who are just curious about CS and AI and want to learn more, but that's a pretty small group. The bigger problem is he invokes that dreaded word yet again, free, and keeps talking about empowering third-world learners in Africa and Afghanistan. Once you start approaching any business like a charity, it's pretty much doomed to failure, as I bet this one is also.

At 1/25/2012 9:16 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

As of the moment I am signed up for Computer Science 101. I hope the class is available in February because the price is right and the provider is Stanford. I will look into Udacity after I kick some booty in 101. :>)

Thanks Professor very much for the information.

At 1/25/2012 9:18 PM, Blogger jorod said...

I bet they don't cut tuition.

At 1/26/2012 12:40 AM, Blogger hal said...

real innovation will not come from these behemoths, but from small start up colleges.

We desperately need Medical school startups, for example.

At 1/26/2012 2:39 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

A revolution in lower quality higher education?:

Professors Embrace Online Courses Despite Qualms About Quality
August 31, 2009
By Marc Parry

The major survey of public colleges and universities found that 70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared with face-to-face instruction.

Professors with online experience are less pessimistic. Among those who have taught or developed an online course, the majority rated the medium's effectiveness as being as good as or better than face to face.

But in a potentially controversial finding, even among professors who have taught online, fully 48 percent feel it is either inferior or somewhat inferior.

Responses came from more than 10,700 faculty members at 69 public colleges and universities across the country.

At 1/26/2012 3:02 AM, Blogger Martha Montelongo said...

Wonderful news!

A lot of the comments reveal a mindset of higher ed as an entry pass to a job as a hired employee.

The path chosen by the professor is of the entrepreneur and free enterprise.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college but went to classes and learned what he wanted to learn and needed to learn. No degree.

Ray Bradbury got his "college" education which nurtured his becoming a great novelist from the Los Angeles Library System.

It's an exciting frontier exploding in the realm of education! Bravo!

At 1/26/2012 3:39 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Online Learning Has Drawbacks

A study conducted by two economics professors at Michigan State University found that students in a virtual economics course performed significantly worse on examinations than their counterparts in the live sections.

Published in American Economic Review...The professors suggest that online courses are better at teaching basic concepts than they are at developing complex analytical skills.

At 1/26/2012 4:21 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

In a classroom setting, an instructor can sense whether or not the class understands the material.

In economics, it's better to spend the entire semester making sure the class understands one complex model fully (or almost fully) than teach several models that the class understands poorly (since the methodology is somewhat similar).

At 1/26/2012 8:04 AM, Blogger Larry G said...

If there are accepted/acceptable certification standards then the arguments about what are the best ways to teach and learn would become a matter of personal choice - as long as you can pass the test.

We have a pretty good model starting test already.

It's called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery"

this test does three things:

1. - it assesses your current basic academic knowledge

2. - it determines which jobs you can already likely do

3. - it determines the training you likely can pass for higher level jobs.

Many European countries uses similar regimes earlier in K-12 to determine if someone is going to take a college track or a technical track - and the technical track is just as challenging but in a different way.

Another good example is the IRS VITA/TCE program to certify volunteer tax preparers.

I'm talking about the process they use ... that process could be adapted for a lot of things.

you learn the material and you take the test. You get two changes to pass and then you're done until next year.

I would submit that in order for us to move forward on any/all non traditional methods of learning to include online but also to include sophisticated combination text books/testing certification on IPADs...(when you're done, you can get online and the results of your tests are sent to the certification folks).

It's not good enough that we can learn much you have learned needs to be assessed and yes.. your learning will inevitably be keyed to what is on the test - i.e teaching (and learning) to the test.

At 1/26/2012 12:19 PM, Blogger Marko said...

With this type of system, the onus will be on the student to learn, instead of on the teach to make sure they learn. There is no need for a test or credentials for people that want to learn useful information and put it to use. My thoughts are similar to Martha's - this is going to be very useful to entrepenaurs. Also, many high tech companies now consider degrees "optional" when hiring, and instead subject applicants with their own testing.

After all, isn't learning the subject the primary goal of education? Or rather, shouldn't it be?

As for teaching to the test, in my experience with law school - the 'better' (read more prestigious) the school the less they teach to the bar exam. Ivy league law school students are often shocked when they have to study for the bar exam, since for the first time they need to learn black letter law instead of theory. Because these students tend to be very intelligent and hard workers they manage to get a good pass rate. Lower tier schools are less selective with students but teach more to the test. Not sure to conclude, but thought someone may be interested :)

At 1/26/2012 12:39 PM, Blogger Larry G said...

re: the law exam

who is the credentialing entity for that test?

if you were in law school - no matter which one - wouldn't you know that at some point you'd need to pass a state exam?

ditto with other professions... medical, engineering, CPA, etc?

I still think that accreditation and certification are going to be important.

Given two applicants for the same position - the guy/gal who has recognized / accepted certifications is going to have a leg up.

Not all courses of study - in class with teacher or online - are equal and that's separate from how hard someone tries to learn.

There are colleges with "reputations" that the give out diplomas to anyone and there are colleges known to have tough academic standards and the drop out rate is much higher.

U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges every year based on various criteria.

Clearly a EE from MIT or Cal Tech is going to be perceived differently than a EE from an obscure online University or Podunk U with 849 students or ....someone who has taken 49 online courses... and claims its the equivalent of a EE at Mit (NOT!).

The reputation of the education institution and the grades earned by the student will still play a big role in my humble view.


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