Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The End of the Universities?

By: Kathryn Miller
Last night I attended a symposium entitled, “The End of the Universities?” that presented the concept of MOOCs as the alternative to traditional college. MOOC stands for “massive open online course.”
You may remember that Stanford University, in the fall of 2011, announced a course in Artificial Intelligence would be available, online and free, to anyone in the world who wanted to participate. 160,000 people registered, although only 6,000 actually completed the course. This was one of the most publicized MOOCs, although Stanford, MIT, Harvard and several other prestigious universities have put up millions of dollars to found consortiums promoting this form of education.

The founder of Udacity, one of these organizations, Sebastian Thrun, has been quoted as saying “in 50 years there will be no more than 10 higher education institutions.” Staggering thought!

The concept of being able to take courses from the best professors in the nation is at once exciting and confusing. Why go to college and possibly incur debt ($26,000 on average for an undergraduate degree), if you can do it all online in the comfort of your own home?

In the average week, students will spend 15 – 17 hours in class, roughly twice that studying, and probably one-third of their time sleeping. The remaining 40% of the week is spent interacting with their friends, their campus, and their community. In other words, they are learning about themselves and the world.

Online learning is not going away and I know it has value. Of course, academics are the primary reason one goes to college. Much of that could be done in an online format, provided you know what you want to study, which half of all students headed to college do not. In addition, many students think they know what they want to pursue, but then are inspired by a class or an activity that changes the course of their young lives in an exciting new direction.

Maybe the “right fit” school for a student is their parents’ basement in front of a computer (Parents, are you ready for this?!) , but I believe that the entire academic and social experience a student receives by going "off to college" offers so much more.
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