Yesterday, in From Silicon Valley, A New Approach To Education, NPR highlighted the free-online class offerings of Coursera. If the purpose of Coursera was solely “to bring more classes from elite universities to students around the world for free online,” then an ESN Facebook wall recommendation to check-out Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (and other offerings) would have been plenty. Why? In an idealistic way I agree with Daphne Koller (Stanford), “By providing what is a truly high-quality educational experience to so many students for free, I think we can really change many, many people’s lives.” . . . Question: Do you agree?
But I was taken aback by the assertion, that “online classes could bring university classes to millions of people who are now effectively cut off.” Why?
- On-line education demands the resources necessary to access it.
- The question of the “value” of free on-line classes to those “effectively cut off” when no credit is offered.
- Free online classes and the questions they raise are not as new as one might think. A friend of ESN working in The UofC law library shared with me
- “Ever since I came across Yale’s online courses about 2 years ago, I have wondered when this idea was going to catch on. Yale has quite an array of courses online, though they are not set up for human interaction or for grading. Why do this?? . . . Colleges and universities can extend their influence quickly and extensively with such courses. People from anywhere in the world would be able to take courses they would never otherwise engage. Major challenge – how many free courses? How much to pay for the rest, so that they can count for a degree (bold added by author of this post).”
- An ESN Facebook wall response to my initial post asking “Can/will online classes ‘bring university classes to millions of people who are now effectively cut off’?”
- “The issue of geographical isolation from university level education is something that we have had to think about a lot in the Scottish Highlands, a region (half the country) which never had a university until 2011, despite the Lowlands of Scotland having four dating from the fifteenth century! Establishing the University of the Highlands and Islands has been part of the reinvigoration of a historically deprived and exploited region which still has significant geographical challenges. We use a mix of online courses and ‘blended learning’ which enables students in remote locations to participate in tutorials using video conferencing. In Scotland university education is free for all undergraduate students anyway, so cost isn’t an issue as it is in the above article. The advent of this type of technology though, has meant that people in ‘remote’ (a very relative term!) areas have been able to access higher education for the first time, without having to abandon already fragile communities. . . . This link is to my own department, which is at the forefront of developing these regionally sensitive methods of learning: http://www.history.uhi.ac.uk/ . . . I’d be fascinated to know where the students were located who were taking advantage of the course featured in the article (bold added by author of this post).
- I have a friend who serves with the Haitian Connection Network. They are establishing learning centers in Port–au-Prince, Haiti in partnership with the University of the People. Currently, University of the People offers the following four “practical” undergraduate degrees:
- Associate (A.S.-B.A.) and Bachelor (B.S.-B.A.) degrees in Business Administration
- Associate (A.S.-C.S.) and Bachelor (B.S.-C.S.) degrees in Computer Science.
A Wrap (for now): It strikes me that Coursera is ideal for the academic/curious, homeschoolers (maybe they could get credit for it), high achieving high schoolers, a retirement community group, a local discussion group, etc. The material provides an excellent opportunity for continuing ed (a more interactive form of The Great Courses), an avenue to get ahead, a broadening of horizons. But to “bring university classes to millions of people who are now effectively cut off” through on-lines classes:
- significant resources are necessary to participate in these classes, i.e., focused web resource/access for the on-line class offering. In the United States, I think partnerships with libraries, local community centers, and educational outreach programs are vital. From a “global” perspective, how helpful are the classes to “bring university classes to millions of people who are now effectively cut off?”
- an opportunity for recognition/degree completion is necessary for those “cut off” to take the next step. Maybe building skills and listing on-line classes on one’s resume will open some doors, but to consider that enough at present is Fantasy and Science Fiction of an unhealthy kind. Isn’t the “degree” still considered a key piece of employment?
Tossing it back to you:
- “Can/will online classes ‘bring university classes to millions of people who are now effectively cut off’?”
- Are you in some way involved with on-line education (or the researching of it) as a form of serving a wider community? If so what does it look like, what have been its challenges? Feel free to share links . . .
- What are ways that followers of Christ can best use free on-line classes to share loving God with “head, heart, & hands” AND loving neighbor? What is an avenue you’d recommend a campus ministry such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and a focused ministry such as the Emerging Scholars Network consider exploring?
- As always, I want to read/hear what you have to say regarding what I’ve shared. Please help me refine my thoughts/musings . . .
More thoughts regarding on-line education in queue 🙂
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!