Wed, Jan 30, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Online courses revolutionizing education options

By Thomas Friedman  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

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 US college.

Mitch Duneier, a Princeton University sociology professor, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall last year 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’ 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,” Duneier wrote.

Agarwal 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 on in the course.


Agarwal added that 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, is now applying to MIT and the University of California, Berkeley.

MIT president L. Rafael Reif said that as we look to the future of higher education, 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.

However, alongside that, 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, Reif added.

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. However, once it is, this phenomenon will really scale.

I can see a day soon where you will 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.

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