Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Coursera Tsunami

As his institution announces its enrollment in the burgeoning Coursera consortium, Professor Dick Lipton of Georgia Tech offers some thoughts about how Coursera might play out for GT.

Are we as educators going to disappear? Why take my course on combinatorics if you can have Bob Sedgewick, one of the world experts, give the lectures?


Will universities as we know them today survive? Will some disappear, will some thrive; will all have to change and adapt?

The New York Times article covers several interesting takes on the discussion, including the difficulty of translating raw enrollment numbers into tangible benefits, and the enormous peer pressure that institutions are feeling to establish an online presence, whether it be Coursera, Udacity, edX, or some other similar arrangement.

As you'll recall, I took both the Coursera and Udacity cryptography classes last spring, and have been (slowly) working my way through Sebastian Thrun's Statistics class on Udacity this summer. So I found it quite interesting to see my Coursera instructor, Professor Dan Boneh of Stanford, discussing how the online course materials could benefit the in-class students as well:

Professors say their in-class students benefit from the online materials. Some have rearranged their courses so that students do the online lesson first, then come to class for interactive projects and help with problem areas.

“The fact that students learn so much from the videos gives me more time to cover the topics I consider more difficult, and to go deeper,” said Dan Boneh, a Stanford professor who taught Coursera’s cryptography course.

As the Times points out, it's far from clear how this whole experiment will go, and how long these marvelous free-for-all education resources will remain available. But for now, it's a wonderful thing, and it looks like there are more great courses coming online soon!

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