John Naughton is one of the most thoughtful of mainstream newspaper writers on new media. Although aa academic at the UK Open University, his regular Guardian newspaper column covers a wide range of different issues.
His article yesterday, entitled Welcome to the desktop degree…, predicted the end of the road for the universities in sitting back and hoping their monopoly on accreditation would guarantee an unending throughput of students.
If all the world’s stored knowledge can be accessed from any networked device, and if the teaching materials and lectures of the best scholars are likewise available online, why should students pay fees and incur debts to live in cramped accommodation for three years?
John goes on to say:
Some things have happened recently that make one think that perhaps the water might be reaching boiling point for traditional universities. The key development is a set of three courses created by Stanford University academics and colleagues in three subject areas: machine learning, database design and artificial intelligence. What makes these significant is that they are: intellectually demanding; free; presented entirely online; taught by world-class academics; and inclusive of assessment as well as tuition.
160000 students from 190 countries signed up to Stanford’s “Introduction to AI” course” , with 23000 reportedly completing.
Only three years ago there was a debate at the F-ALT fringe event at ALT-C on whether MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were merely a passing fad. I can’t remember the results of the vote at the end of the debate but can remember that there was considerable scepticism. The truth seems to be that the MOOC model has taken hold. My only concern is that in adopting such a model for large scale commercial application by large and often private American universities, the values and dedication of people like Stephen Downes and George Siemens who pioneered the early MOOCs will be lost and such courses will just become an industrial treadmill for students.