One More Time: How Technology will Save (or Destroy) Higher Ed.

This week, Bill Keller had a piece in the New York Times dealing with the topic.  Among the initiatives he focused on was that of Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, who is offering his artificial intelligence course on-line absolutely free.

Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students. Testing, peer interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.

And that’s the rub.  Any study I’ve ever read about higher education suggests that lectures themselves are relatively inefficient ways to transfer information.  In order to take full advantage of technology, the whole learning process needs to be reconsidered and colleges need to foster more self-directed, collaborative learning and support fewer courses that feature the “talking heads” approach promoted by Professor Thrun.  If mid-tier public colleges try to emulate Stanford’s model, they will disappear.  The trick for them is to put technology to more creative uses than the first-tier institutions and their star professors are willing to consider.

You can read the New York Times piece here.

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