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Berkeley Joins Online Higher Ed Revolution

The online education train keeps picking up steam. It was announced in May that Harvard had partnered with MIT to form a consortium called edX. Now comes word from the New York Times that the University of California, Berkeley, has jumped on board:

Berkeley will be offering two courses, contributing new open-source technology and heading a soon-to-be-formed consortium of universities joining edX. . . .

This fall, edX will offer seven MOOCs [massive open online courses]: artificial intelligence and software engineering from Berkeley, computer science and biostatistics and epidemiology from Harvard, and an introduction to solid state chemistry and an introduction to computer science and programming from M.I.T., along with another round of the circuits course it offered as a prototype.

Those who finish this fall’s courses will get free certificates of completion. Later, edX plans to charge for certificates.

This is just the beginning; the president of edX has said more than 120 universities worldwide are interested in partnering with the organization. Whatever the future holds for edX, it is heartening to see historically prestigious schools leading the way in education innovation.

The standard university course format in which a professor stands and reads a lecture as students take notes hasn’t really changed since Plato ran his Academy. Maybe the internet will now succeed where the printing press failed, and drag academia out of the fourteenth century.

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  • John Barker

    Is it not amazing that students still sit in class and take notes; I suppose this is a result of a theory of instruction that regards teaching as transmission of information rather than the shaping of a student’s thinking process within a discipline.

  • Ben Lima

    True about lectures, but in fact that is only one element of a typical college course!

    There is also the discussion section, and the evaluation of student work, both of which are labor-intensive and hard to cheaply broadcast to thousands over the internet.

    Plus, upper-level college courses, i.e. tutorials or supervised research, are less able to scale up as smoothly.

    Online lectures may come to resemble textbooks as a category of “assigned reading [viewing],” as local college teachers assign their students to watch the Berkeley course on the web, while retaining responsibility for supervising and evaluating their own local students.

    More here…

  • Mrs. Davis

    There is also educational value to sitting on a log with Mark Hopkins. But this will increasingly be available only to the rich. As in Mark Hopkins’ day.

  • Gregory

    Somehow the traditional mode of education [I mean, before the onset of PC plague] was more successful in my field than the bells and whistles are, judging by the caliber of its best products.

  • JRL

    I agree with Mr. Lima above.

    I’ll add also that the “standard course format” referred to in the original post is not one recognizable to me either from my own college education (early 90s), my work in 2 different humanities grad programs (philosophy and history), or as a university teacher myself.

    I earned my doctorate in history, and began my teaching career, for example, at the University of Chicago, where the emphasis has traditionally been not on passive reception of a lecture, but on Socratic dialogue.

    In my experience only the hoariest and laziest of faculty use the model WRM sees as standard still.

    As an example, the non-seminar courses that I teach are usually of the 85 minutes Tues./Thurs. sort. I might spend half that time delivering a quasi-lecture, but even during that part of the class time there is some interaction with students. The other half of the class is discussion of a primary source document usually.

    I will say though, and this has been the experience of my friends at other universities too, that most students actually prefer being passive receptors of lectures. “Tell me the information I’ll need to pass the exam” is the mantra. Having to do close reading of a document and then discuss it, having to actually think rather than regurgitate, is harder.

    Which is to say, it’s really unfair to claim that faculty are stuck in the 14th century. We’re not. But students would prefer to be.

  • JRL

    I’ll add too that merely putting lectures online for students to view hardly seems much of an innovation in terms of pedagogy.

    It seems rather a step back to the model WRM (rightly) derides.

  • Dismalist

    Just another barrier to entry?

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