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In Tuesday’s New York Times, Tamar Lewin reports on a phenomenon with the potential to transform higher education — the emergence of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. These are college-level classes free to anyone with an Internet connection, offered by elite universities that have joined forces with private companies.

MOOCs first landed in the spotlight last year, when Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor, offered a free Artificial Intelligence course, and 160,000 students in 190 nations signed up. The resulting storm of publicity galvanized elite research universities across the country to begin to open higher education to everyone — with the hope of perhaps, eventually, making money doing so.

The expansion has been dizzying. Millions of students are now enrolled in hundreds of online courses, including those offered by Udacity, Mr. Thrun’s spinoff company; edX, a joint venture of Harvard and M.I.T.; and Coursera, a Stanford spinoff.

These courses harness the power of their huge enrollments to teach in new ways, applying crowd-sourcing technology to discussion forums and grading, and enabling professors to use online lectures and reserve on-campus class time for interaction with students.

No one knows how these huge courses will evolve, but their appeal to a broad audience is unquestioned. Retirees in Indiana see them as a route to lifelong learning; students in India see them as their only lifeline to college-level work.

The spread of MOOCs is likely to have wide fallout. Lower-tier colleges, already facing resistance over high tuition, may have trouble convincing students that their courses are worth the price. And some experts voice reservations about how online learning can be assessed and warn of the potential for cheating.

 

 

source/credit:  This article was previously posted at:bits.blogs.nytimes.com

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