I am a fan of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These courses allow people everywhere (well, at least those with access to the Internet) to have access to courses taught by the top people in the field. For example, Peter Norvig, head of research at Google and the author of the top textbook on artificial intelligence, and Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford who lead the development of a robotic vehicle that won the DARPA challenge race to drive a 150 mile mountainous course, taught an free online course on artificial intelligence. 160,000 people in 190 countries enrolled in the course. This is a phenomenal shift in education. Students no longer need to be accepted to elite universities to have access to the highest quality instruction. I’ve used MOOCs in several of my courses ranging from introduction to computer science courses to upper level courses.
In these classes I do not lecture, instead students watch the videos provided by the online course. Class time is spent working on projects. I am also supervising students who are doing individual studies mainly using a MOOC (currently one on cryptography and one on robotics). This enables them to gain credit at the University of Mary Washington for an online course in an topic that we do not offer in a traditional format. If you currently are a student at UMW and are interested in doing this please talk to me.
Two big players in this field include Udacity, which offers a “start a courses anytime at your convenience” approach, and Coursera, where courses start on specified dates. Several sites, including the Open Education Database and Class Central have created course lists aggregated from top online universities.
The question I ponder is what does this mean for traditional universities.