Free for the taking: Elite colleges including Tech put classes online

computer (Medium) A dozen major research universities including Georgia Tech, Princeton, Duke, Johns Hopkins and the University of Virginia announced plans this week to offer 100 free online courses that will enable millions worldwide to take the same classes as students at elite U.S. campuses.

The announcement by Coursera, a year-old company founded by two Stanford professors, represents a giant leap forward in the expanding inventory of what has become known as MOOCs — massive open online courses.

“I think this is the most remarkable social development certainly of the last few years,” said Eric D. Fingerhut at a Brookings Institution webinar Tuesday. The former chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Fingerhut is vice president of education and STEM learning for the Ohio-based research and development firm Batelle.

“One of America’s greatest products is our higher education system,” said Fingerhut. “And we are opening it up for free to people anywhere in the world. You’d be amazed how many people have broadband connectivity, but didn’t have access to a University of Virginia course or a Stanford course. There are, in fact, people all over the world accessing for free that which only an elite, small number of people could utilize.”

Along with Coursera, the largest consortium, students around the globe now have the option of taking courses from edX, a joint effort of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Udacity, the brainchild of noted computer scientist and Google “Street View” co-developer Sebastian Thrun.

It was Thrun’s decision — inspired by the math tutorials created by Salman Khan and his Khan Academy— to put his Stanford artificial intelligence course online that revealed the enormous audience for virtual college classrooms.

A star professor at Stanford and a Google fellow, Thrun realized that he could reach far more than the 200 students in his Stanford classes if he created an online course. Thrun announced his intention to offer his course online without charge through a single email, expecting 500 takers.

The course drew 160,000 students, ages 13 to 70, from 190 countries, 23,000 of whom finished at what Thrun described as “Stanford-level quality.”

(One of the problems yet to be resolved is how to reconcile bringing courses free to the world for which elite universities charge students $40,000 in tuition. In fact, Stanford had offered Thrun’s artificial-intelligence class online for $1,500.)

Among the most dedicated students in Thrun’s free online class was an Afghani who spent his days dodging mortar fire and checkpoints and had only an hour of Internet connection a day to participate in the free class.

“Maybe, I’m just not cynical enough, but I just think that is such an extraordinary gift,” said Fingerhut.

“At some point, it will have to be monetized,” Fingerhut said. “And at some point, there will be fees associated with it, but the fact that our greatest universities are racing each other now to open up their curriculum to anyone in the world, not just students lucky enough to get into Stanford or the University of Virginia, I just think only good can from it.”

Thrun refined the online version of the class, spending as much as 10 to 15 hours recording a single lesson. Two thousand volunteer translators translated the class into 44 languages. Discussion groups sprang up at Facebook.

Thrun was teaching more students online than attended all of Stanford. At the same time that he was teaching artificial intelligence online, he was also teaching the course to his usual 200 Stanford students on the campus. But within a few weeks, daily attendance had dwindled to 30 students.

He asked students why they were missing class. The Stanford students told Thrun that they preferred him on video where they could rewind him.

Stunned by the appetite around the world and at Stanford for quality online classes, Thrun launched Udacity, an online university that now offers 11 free computer science courses.

While higher education has been the leader in online education, Fingerhut said there are efforts under way to entice high school students to take online college-level courses, including those offered at Udacity.

A decade ago, 50,000 students in k-12 schools were enrolled in distance learning. Today, the number is at a million, but the research thus far suggests that online courses are not as effective with younger learners.

“Is it perfect? It is not perfect yet. This is the stone age of this development,” Fingerhut said. “But it is an exciting development and it is changing the world.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

40 comments Add your comment

redweather

July 20th, 2012
7:09 am

This is great, but next will come the advocates who want people who complete a course to earn college credit.

Parent and Teacher

July 20th, 2012
7:20 am

Yes! THIS is a great use of technology!

HoneyFern School

July 20th, 2012
7:30 am

Why should they not receive credit if they complete the work to the appropriate level? I don’t think it is realistic as it is set up (imagine grading 23K students – no, thanks!), but there is an online option for college (out is CA, maybe? Can’t remember, but it is a good one, like UCLA or some such) that offers college credit for online classes if you pay a fee. So not free but infinitely more accessible!

I think this is good for those students who don’t need to go to college (e.g., entrepreneurs) but need certain classes (e.g., business classes).

Entitlement Society

July 20th, 2012
7:34 am

Perfect! We can ship the illegals back home and they can still get a free higher education from the US.

Entitlement Society

July 20th, 2012
7:35 am

P.S. That was sarcasm, people.

redweather

July 20th, 2012
7:36 am

@ HoneyFern School: “Why should they not receive credit if they complete the work to the appropriate level?”

Because they haven’t paid for the class.

Atlanta Mom

July 20th, 2012
7:40 am

Oh boy! More multple choice tests.

Parent and Teacher

July 20th, 2012
7:46 am

I think this is geared toward people who just want the knowledge and do not need or want the credit. Why can’t it just be about learning? If you want official credit you should have to pay. I am thankful to have the information available to me. I just signed up for a couple of classes that will (hopefully) add value to my classroom teaching. This is what I wish our staff development looked like, actual useful course-related information!

bootney farnsworth

July 20th, 2012
8:22 am

why would anyone object to this?

somebody, somewhere will, but why?

redweather

July 20th, 2012
8:24 am

@ Parent and Teacher, I couldn’t agree with you more. The access to knowledge should be free.

Tired

July 20th, 2012
8:44 am

Parent and Teacher, that’s exactly where I am. I’ve taken a few of these courses (various stats classes) simply to enhance my professional skills. If I ever have the money for grad school I’ll go to a bricks & mortar, but in the meantime this is an excellent supplement.

teacher&mom

July 20th, 2012
8:54 am

@Parent & Teacher: I agree. This is the type of staff development I can sink my teeth into. In fact, I just signed up for a course to refresh my knowledge in a subject.

My goal is twofold….learn more about a subject that I may be teaching in the future and get a sense of what my students will be facing in a future college course.

redweather

July 20th, 2012
9:18 am

I have requested that all of these moronic comments by Peter Cao be removed.

Raisin Toast Fanatic

July 20th, 2012
9:25 am

There is actually a war between fascism and anti-fascism, ,…..

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH !

Simply “noise”. I tuned out right away.

SBinF

July 20th, 2012
9:44 am

I’m torn. This is great because you can study a number of courses at no charge. However, the point of college is as much the piece of paper you receive upon completion as it is improving your knowledge. I would be unlikely to partake in the program.

William Casey

July 20th, 2012
9:48 am

I guess that I’m not awake yet. I don’t inderstand what fascism at Stanford has to do with the availability of useful knowledge onlne.

William Casey

July 20th, 2012
9:49 am

“understand”

Craig C.

July 20th, 2012
9:55 am

MIT has been doing this for the last five years through their Opencourseware. I am a strong supporter of it. Go to http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm. They literally offer thousands of course for free in any area from engineering to English. Millions have taken their courses for free ! So even though this is great news that the other universities are finally catching up, MIT has and continues to lead the world in free top quality education. My only question now is when will the rest of the educational community from K-12 to Higher education catch up? – Craig C.

William Casey

July 20th, 2012
10:47 am

Thanks, Maureen.

William Casey

July 20th, 2012
10:51 am

I love the idea of online sharing. There are many people who want/need knowledge who do not need degrees. Since my son is considering MIT for grad school, I’m glad to know that they are leading the way.

Entitlement Society

July 20th, 2012
10:57 am

@Craig – I think the article said that research shows that distance learning hasn’t been as effective for younger learners. I wish they elaborated on that comment because I agree that this is a wonderful development. I don’t view it as a replacement for the traditional classroom in K-12, but definitely as a supplement.

Maureen Downey

July 20th, 2012
11:10 am

@William and others, I have taken the comments from the poster alleging the murder plot, etc. If you are interested in his cause, you can find plenty of references to him online.
Maureen

Old timer

July 20th, 2012
11:10 am

Great idea…..

Mary Elizabeth

July 20th, 2012
11:39 am

I particularly like the fact that technology can be used to educate people throughout the world, through Broadband, who may not have been able to receive a college level education, otherwise.

However, it must be stated that there are millions of people, throughout the world, who are illiterate. Hopefully, technology, through worldwide mass communication, can also be developed to reach these people, and not for profit purposes, but for humanitarian purposes. Education certainly has more power to change the world, for good, than war and conflict, but education’s resulting erudition must be practiced, in this world, through effective interaction with others. Increased knowledge needs, also, effective interpersonal interaction models.

Awareness in how to handle interpersonal conflict, through dialogue and peaceful means, is as important toward building a more literate and humane world, than simply knowledge dispersed throughout the world, especially if that educational dispersion is used to serve the profit purposes of some, which can foster greed. The learning process, regarding how to resolve human conflict through nonviolent means, needs interaction among people so that they can learn humane approaches to conflict. That process cannot be achieved simply from watching a video presentation of ideas. It needs people present, interacting with one another, from which they can learn. Technology can be used for good, but it has its limitations in elevating the world’s consciousness for humane purposes, precisely because it lacks a human interaction dimension.

F2014M

July 20th, 2012
12:04 pm

Sharing knowledge and insight across the globe is admirable. I think this gesture is intended to give a taste of the academic caliber offered by these universities, but true student knowledge is made through engagement and discussion IN those courses with the professors. This is a recent NYTimes piece about online education.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/opinion/the-trouble-with-online-education.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

I believe this venture is business through technology. It certainly benefits some, but damages others. I made a point to tell my superintendent that our school district is stunted by online degrees. The accountability of writing and speaking your own work as well as growth in dispositions is not transparent within an online degree. Do you want a teacher that can send an email or gently calm a parent to offer insight on a child’s performance? Do you want an administrator that can join a chat room or a form consensus among staff members to accomplish rigorous tasks? Do you want central office employees that don’t answer the phone because they are customizing the signature titles on their email accounts?
Included in every syllabus at my university is a line about using Standard English. There is also a similar line in my school district evaluation. “You have been disconnected.” How do we learn to navigate real life situations if we are learning in a one size fits the computer screen model?

galofthe80s

July 20th, 2012
12:08 pm

Interesting idea…I have a son who is a senior in high school this year. I want him to check into these classes and get an idea of what his college classes will be like. I think it’s an excellent way to ‘test drive’ college classes before actually enrolling in a degree program. Plus, it will give him an idea of the rigor of college level classes.

living in an outdated ed system

July 20th, 2012
12:10 pm

living in an outdated ed system

July 20th, 2012
4:30 pm

I think your post begs the question about K-12 and the obstacles preventing true reform in public education in America. A post on a great website, Mindshift, talks about “10 Things in School that Should be Obsolete” You can read the details behind each of the ten items at Mindshift’s website but, here’s the complete list:

1. COMPUTER LABS. A modern school needs to have connectivity everywhere and treat computers more like pencils than microscopes.

2. LEARNING IN PRESCRIBED PLACES.
3. TEACHER-CENTERED CLASSROOM.
4. ISOLATED CLASSROOMS.
5. DEPARTMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS.
6. SCHOOL CORRIDORS.
7. TRADITIONAL SCHOOL LIBRARIES.
8. DARK, INDOOR GYMS.
9. INSTITUTIONAL FOOD SERVICE.
10. LARGE RESTROOMS.

For the great detail supporting these 10 items, go to http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/07/10-things-in-school-that-should-be-obsolete/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+kqed%2FnHAK+%28MindShift%29

Really amazed

July 20th, 2012
10:49 pm

Wake up people…this is the way of the future!!!! Online college!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I already know many that have received their degree online. I am even talking master degrees etc. I can see it now… down to elementary school. Online WILL replace the traditional brick buildings of the passed. Just a matter of time. I am not sayin I like it….but reality.

Latest Free Online Education News

July 21st, 2012
5:16 am

[...] courses. While higher education has been the leader in online education … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) Tags: Education, Free, Latest, News, Online Posted in Free Education [...]

HoneyFern School

July 21st, 2012
8:58 am

@redweather – so if I pay for a class and I fail I should still get credit? Isn’t it supposed to be about quality of work rather than a simple financial transaction? Otherwise, people could go out and buy themselves a college degree without doing any of the work or learning anything.

Prof

July 21st, 2012
12:20 pm

@ HoneyFern School. I don’t quite follow your argument. As it is right now in regular colleges where you have to pay for the courses, you will “get credit” if you fail—you’ll get an F on your record. And one of the main complaints about online diploma mills is that too often they allow “people [to] go out and buy themselves a college degree without doing any of the work or learning anything.”

And redweather’s original point is very well-taken: why should someone get college credit for simply watching free class lectures online? There are no tests or papers to determine how much the watcher comprehends. Sounds worse than “social promotion” in high school.

Ole Guy

July 21st, 2012
3:12 pm

This appears to mimic the practice, of yesteryear, of “auditing” a course (one which I could never understand). This would be tantamount to rummaging through the bar’s dumpster for empty booze bottles so that they can be filled with “Coolaid” and one can proceed with a “pretend drunk”.

In reality, I might see where one can “get a glimpse” into the “meat and potatos” of a course without the financial commitment, however, the very concept negates the concept of SELF-COMMITMENT to a goal. If the kid wants to be an engineer, take a few courses in basic engineering: statics, dynamics, strength of materials, etc, at your local community college. This “tipy toeing bs is completely non-productive.

Once Again

July 21st, 2012
3:49 pm

The internet has the potential to destroy the classical university/college model. Outstanding. The more that can be offered up free or online for lower costs, the better all americans will be. The days of the overpriced ivory towers of higher education are coming to a close and all of society will benefit from their demise. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned. Far too much money has already been wasted.

Prof

July 21st, 2012
4:11 pm

@ Once Again. Ah, yes. No humans to teach with contagious enthusiasm and answer questions from confused students; no other students in the class with whom other students can test their ideas in discussions; everyone alone in their individual, antiseptic cubicles tapping on computer keyboards.

Or perhaps you are really posting a modern-day version of Jonathan Swift’s satire, “A Modest Proposal”?

Prof

July 22nd, 2012
2:55 pm

So THIS is what redweather meant in his July 20th, 9:18 am post: “I have requested that all of these moronic comments by Peter Cao be removed.” His brother Ming seems seriously disturbed, even giving email addresses. Maureen, should all this be posted? Seriously.

[...] “… A dozen major research universities including Georgia Tech, Princeton, Duke, Johns Hopkins and the University of Virginia announced plans…” (Atlanta Journal Constitution)  [...]

Neil Murray

July 23rd, 2012
11:50 am

It’s about time education became easily available to the majority. Universities and colleges have long been not the source of freedom but the monopoly of information. Georgia Perimeter is a prime example: it charges $99 per credit for online courses–not much different from the charge for a brick and mortar course. By all means, make people pay for luxury items, like Jaguars. But knowledge should be free, or at least low cost. (It’s been pointed out that if public libraries had not been invented centuries ago, the publishing industry would prevent them.) Of course, not all courses are suited for online delivery. I have taught many freshman composition courses, and I believe it is important for students to be in face to face contact for discussions, which can embrace any subject. Computer programming is another story: I became a professional programmer simply by using the compiler; when I got it wrong, the program wouldn’t run, and the error message, if not precise, at least pointed me in the right direction.

Prof

July 23rd, 2012
3:40 pm

@ Maureen Downey, July 20th, 11:10 am: “@William and others, I have taken the comments from the poster alleging the murder plot, etc. If you are interested in his cause, you can find plenty of references to him online. Maureen”

Well, he’s back again for the third time. See above.

@ Neil Murray. My understanding is that these “free online courses” are simply the video lectures of the professors. Fine—free sampling of the product offered by the university before the student signs up at the university. But these are NOT the same as online courses, which involve the professor testing and grading papers submitted online by the students to determine the knowledge retained. Do you think that too should be free? Should the professor work for nothing?

Ole Guy

July 25th, 2012
12:36 pm

Murray, do you hail from the land of milk, honey, and cute little bunnies; where the sun shines perpetually, etc. NEWS FLASH: GOOD THINGS, LIKE EDUCATION, COST $…IT COSTS SOMEBODY/SOMEWHERE. While your sentiment is worthy of note, in all objectivity, you’re living on the cloud of idealism. If one desires an education, one had better be prepared to pay…more than likely, pay dearly, both in terms of $, as well as sweat an’tears. THEIR SIMPLY AIN’T NO OTHER WAY…NEVER WAS; NEVER WILL BE.