Thursday, April 12, 2012

Online Free Courses

We know the examples of free online courses with 100k+ students each from Stanford in CS, are there similar developments in Engg/Medical School/Business School/Arts or whatever?



Blogger Chandra said...

Muthu, what is your take on where we (in academia) are headed with the online course revolution? Do you think there will be a vibrant set of universities left if the top few take over the instruction of basic courses?

8:45 AM  
Blogger Sastry said...

There are a few engineering, medicine courses but nothing as interactive and as "immersive". They do not have things like the periodic feedback from short quizzes, regular home work with reasonable deadline, a means to track progress, etc. However, it should get better with time as more and more teaching models are moving to online instruction. As an example, the med school here is focusing on online instruction for basic sciences, and instructor involvement is getting reduced.

If the basic material is widely covered online, the top universities can then function more as centers for advanced learning, or end up as routine certification/filtering authorities. The main advantage these places will still have is that the accepted students will be part of a "smarter peer group" that can deal with a higher order problems, as long as the professors can keep whipping up demanding course content.

There is already a parallel... In order to get into the IITs in India at the undergrad level, there is a very competitive joint entrance exam (IIT JEE). It used to be tougher than the material covered in the first year of IIT, and required immense preparation. These days, the good coaching places (that coach students on taking the JEE) themselves have an entrance exam that is also very competitive. I wouldn't be surprised to find coaching centers to get into coaching centers to get into IIT. Considering the preparation involved in getting into IITs, the course content at IITs should be at the next higher level, but sometimes it isn't, so a large fraction of the students that lived and breathed math for years end up not doing math anymore.

These online courses have an immediate positive impact for all universities. They provide an additional education opportunity to students -- while the students continue to work on narrowly focused projects. Faculty members that do not want to deal with teaching can redirect his/her grad students to the free online courses, and ends up with better educated/skilled students to work on research projects! Of course, if an adviser actively discourages students from taking additional courses, the situation continues to be bad.

Imagine a non comp.sci person being able to take a course on algorithms from Tim Roughgarden and a course on Programming Languages from Peter Norvig -- at one's own schedule and pace. To get the same experience at a local university, it will take a semester or two time commitment to a specific schedule [which can break if one has to visit conferences or work on an upcoming deadline], a nice chunk of money or an explanation as to why the grad program should pay for those courses.

On a side note, the host of this blog gets a heartfelt thanks for helping a washed up engineer rediscover the joy of math. Granted, the math is so far remedial math, but still...

12:58 PM  
Blogger Sastry said...

Overall tuition costs may come down -- a net positive for everyone.

Rep. Virginia Foxx recently made this statement: "I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that." [contrasting her experience where she was able to pay for college through small jobs -- in 50's?].

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Chandra,

It is hard to predict, in particular, the *online* future. :)

Mainly the issue is game theory.

-- Will students get a certificate from Top Univ and its associated value when obtained by online courses?

-- Will students find a replacement for college social networking that is very valuable later?

-- Technology for making, running and accessing these mega online courses will be equally available to many, probably all.

-- Competition in lecture quality.
Prof in 50th ranked school maybe a better algorithms lecturer than one in top 10. Giving the market the freedom to choose any course, this will lead to competition and profs in top schools will react by attacking the cost of making online courses.

The question is, what is an equilibrium (even acceptably unstable) under the above constraints? I dont know.

I know: there are risks for highly ranked schools as much as low ranked ones. Finally, with a little morph: "Technology will find a way". To destroy something current, to build something new.

-- Metoo

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sastry,

I have built systems with you and watched you build systems. You are NOT washed up, man, far from it.

-- Metoo

6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Chandra,

I forgot to add another ingredient:

-- Almost surely, there is a bubble going on in tuition fees across the country and universities.


6:30 AM  
Anonymous free online courses said...

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10:03 PM  
Blogger ranjini said...

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4:58 AM  

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