A Harvard education - for free

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John F
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A Harvard education - for free

Post by John F » Fri May 04, 2012 2:04 am

And not just Harvard.

May 2, 2012
Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses
By TAMAR LEWIN

In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans — one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.

Harvard’s involvement follows M.I.T.’s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.

But Harvard and M.I.T. have a rival — they are not the only elite universities planning to offer free massively open online courses, or MOOCs, as they are known. This month, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with a new commercial company, Coursera, with $16 million in venture capital.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who made headlines last fall when 160,000 students signed up for his Artificial Intelligence course, has attracted more than 200,000 students to the six courses offered at his new company, Udacity.

The technology for online education, with video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback and student-paced learning, is evolving so quickly that those in the new ventures say the offerings are still experimental. “My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now,” said Provost Alan M. Garber of Harvard, who will be in charge of the university’s involvement.

EdX, which is expected to offer its first five courses this fall, will be overseen by a nonprofit organization governed equally by the two universities, each of which has committed $30 million to the project. The first president of edX will be Anant Agarwal, director of M.I.T.’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who has led the development of the MITx platform. At Harvard, Dr. Garber will direct the effort, with Michael D. Smith, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, working with faculty members to develop and deliver courses. Eventually, they said, other universities will join them in offering courses on the platform.

M.I.T. and Harvard officials said they would use the new online platform not just to build a global community of online learners, but also to research teaching methods and technologies.

Education experts say that while the new online classes offer opportunities for students and researchers, they pose some threat to low-ranked colleges. “Projects like this can impact lives around the world, for the next billion students from China and India,” said George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer who teaches at Athabasca University, a publicly supported online Canadian university. “But if I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously right now, because if a leading university offers a free circuits course, it becomes a real question whether other universities need to develop a circuits course.”

The edX project will include not only engineering courses, in which computer grading is relatively simple, but also humanities courses, in which essays might be graded through crowd-sourcing, or assessed with natural-language software. Coursera will also offer free humanities courses in which grading will be done by peers.

In some ways, the new partnerships reprise the failed online education ventures of a decade ago. Columbia University introduced Fathom, a 2001 commercial venture that involved the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and others. It lost money and folded in 2003. Yale, Princeton and Stanford collaborated on AllLearn, a nonprofit effort that collapsed in 2006.

Many education experts are more hopeful about the new enterprises. “Online education is here to stay, and it’s only going to get better,” said Lawrence S. Bacow, a past president of Tufts who is a member of the Harvard Corporation. Dr. Bacow, co-author of a new report on online learning, said it remained unclear how traditional universities would integrate the new technologies.

“What faculty don’t want to do is just take something off the shelf that’s somebody else’s and teach it, any more than they would take a textbook, start on Page 1, and end with the last chapter,” he said. “What’s still missing is an online platform that gives faculty the capacity to customize the content of their own highly interactive courses.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/educa ... urses.html
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John F
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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by John F » Fri May 04, 2012 2:11 am

The Campus Tsunami
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: May 3, 2012

Online education is not new. The University of Phoenix started its online degree program in 1989. Four million college students took at least one online class during the fall of 2007. But over the past few months, something has changed. The elite, pace-setting universities have embraced the Internet. Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments. Now online activity is at the core of how these schools envision their futures.

This week, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology committed $60 million to offer free online courses from both universities. Two Stanford professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, have formed a company, Coursera, which offers interactive courses in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and engineering. Their partners include Stanford, Michigan, Penn and Princeton. Many other elite universities, including Yale and Carnegie Mellon, are moving aggressively online. President John Hennessy of Stanford summed up the emerging view in an article by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker, “There’s a tsunami coming.”

What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web.

Many of us view the coming change with trepidation. Will online learning diminish the face-to-face community that is the heart of the college experience? Will it elevate functional courses in business and marginalize subjects that are harder to digest in an online format, like philosophy? Will fast online browsing replace deep reading?

If a few star professors can lecture to millions, what happens to the rest of the faculty? Will academic standards be as rigorous? What happens to the students who don’t have enough intrinsic motivation to stay glued to their laptop hour after hour? How much communication is lost — gesture, mood, eye contact — when you are not actually in a room with a passionate teacher and students?

The doubts are justified, but there are more reasons to feel optimistic. In the first place, online learning will give millions of students access to the world’s best teachers. Already, hundreds of thousands of students have taken accounting classes from Norman Nemrow of Brigham Young University, robotics classes from Sebastian Thrun of Stanford and physics from Walter Lewin of M.I.T.

Online learning could extend the influence of American universities around the world. India alone hopes to build tens of thousands of colleges over the next decade. Curricula from American schools could permeate those institutions.

Research into online learning suggests that it is roughly as effective as classroom learning. It’s easier to tailor a learning experience to an individual student’s pace and preferences. Online learning seems especially useful in language and remedial education.

The most important and paradoxical fact shaping the future of online learning is this: A brain is not a computer. We are not blank hard drives waiting to be filled with data. People learn from people they love and remember the things that arouse emotion. If you think about how learning actually happens, you can discern many different processes. There is absorbing information. There is reflecting upon information as you reread it and think about it. There is scrambling information as you test it in discussion or try to mesh it with contradictory information. Finally there is synthesis, as you try to organize what you have learned into an argument or a paper.

Online education mostly helps students with Step 1. As Richard A. DeMillo of Georgia Tech has argued, it turns transmitting knowledge into a commodity that is cheap and globally available. But it also compels colleges to focus on the rest of the learning process, which is where the real value lies. In an online world, colleges have to think hard about how they are going to take communication, which comes over the Web, and turn it into learning, which is a complex social and emotional process.

How are they going to blend online information with face-to-face discussion, tutoring, debate, coaching, writing and projects? How are they going to build the social capital that leads to vibrant learning communities? Online education could potentially push colleges up the value chain — away from information transmission and up to higher things.

In a blended online world, a local professor could select not only the reading material, but do so from an array of different lecturers, who would provide different perspectives from around the world. The local professor would do more tutoring and conversing and less lecturing. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School notes it will be easier to break academic silos, combining calculus and chemistry lectures or literature and history presentations in a single course.

The early Web radically democratized culture, but now in the media and elsewhere you’re seeing a flight to quality. The best American colleges should be able to establish a magnetic authoritative presence online.

My guess is it will be easier to be a terrible university on the wide-open Web, but it will also be possible for the most committed schools and students to be better than ever.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/opini ... unami.html
John Francis

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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by living_stradivarius » Fri May 04, 2012 10:59 am

Stanford started this free online course craze last year with its introduction to AI, Machine Learning, and Introduction to Databases courses online. The AI class quasi-morphed into Udacity and the Machine Learning class evolved into Coursera. Harvard's a bit late to the game ;)

khanacademy.org is still better at teaching the general public, imo, until these new elite college courses refine their teaching methods
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John F
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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by John F » Sat May 05, 2012 12:50 am

Since Harvard hasn't put any courses online yet and MIT has offered only one, beginning in March, your comment is a wee bit premature.
Last edited by John F on Sat May 05, 2012 9:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
John Francis

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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by Holden Fourth » Sat May 05, 2012 8:17 am

I currently work as an online 'coach' (their term) for Harvard as part of their GSE program and can tell you that the way that Harvard delivers these post graduate courses works very well. I just can't understand why they would offer courses for free.

John F
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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by John F » Sat May 05, 2012 10:04 am

Why not?

I haven't found a direct explanation yet, but I did find this, which gives a reason other than public-spiritedness for these universities to be doing such a thing at all:
MIT News Office wrote:MIT and Harvard will use the jointly operated edX platform to research how students learn and how technologies can facilitate effective teaching both on-campus and online. The edX platform will enable the study of which teaching methods and tools are most successful. The findings of this research will be used to inform how faculty use technology in their teaching, which will enhance the experience for students on campus and for the millions expected to take advantage of these new online offerings.
In other words, those who take the online courses will be serving as experimental subjects, for free. Seems like a fair deal to me.

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/mit- ... 50212.html
John Francis

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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by living_stradivarius » Sat May 05, 2012 12:16 pm

Holden Fourth wrote:I currently work as an online 'coach' (their term) for Harvard as part of their GSE program and can tell you that the way that Harvard delivers these post graduate courses works very well. I just can't understand why they would offer courses for free.
'Cuz everyone else is doing it
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Re: A Harvard education - for free

Post by nut-job » Sat May 05, 2012 1:08 pm

Computer based learning may have great potential, but I would considered an advanced, interactive form of a textbook, rather than a substitute for a University education.

People have always been able to teach themselves by studying books, and now perhaps computers are more widely available than books are or were. But I can't imagine that following an internet class substitutes for the experience of enrolling in a university, where direct interaction with the other students is at least as important as interaction with faculty. And the real advantage of being at Harvard is not that the standard classes are better, but that you might have the chance to work with a leading faculty member on a real research project.

Finally, wider access to knowledge is good, but if internet learning takes the wind out of the sails of universities (the ordinary ones, not Harvard, MIT and Stanford) that would be a negative.

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