April 9, 2009

YouTube, Colleges Partner To Offer Free Online Classes

The popular online video site YouTube is partnering with several colleges and universities to become a major reservoir of college content for students, The Associated Press reported.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has spent the last few years developing relationships with universities and colleges under the banner YouTube EDU.

Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale and UC Berkeley are among the more than 100 schools that have partnered with YouTube to make an official channel for higher learning.

YouTube now offers content straight from the classroom or lecture hall, as well as promotional videos like campus tours. Some colleges have even posted videos of guest lecturers, introductory classes and even a full semester's course.

The concept of this so-called "free higher learning" has become a crucial outlet during a time when many are finding college unaffordable and the ranks of the unemployed continue to grow.

Obadiah Greenberg, the strategic partnership manager for YouTube, said there's a huge appetite around the world for people to better themselves and to study subjects that they either never got a chance to or haven't studied in a while.

Colleges and universities have been opening their doors digitally to the public over the past few years.

Scott Stocker, director of Web communications at Stanford, said that "Ivory Tower" reputation might be even more dated than the advent of YouTube.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the MIT OpenCourseWare in 2002 in order to make virtually all of the school's courses available for free online.

The site has no registration requirements and after logging on users can receive immediate access to a variety of courses taught by the country's leading professors.

MIT announced last December that OCW had been visited by more than 50 million people around the globe, leading many experts to question why such prestigious institutions that charge a huge price for admission are so willing to give away their primary product.

Some, however, say such ideas have always been a part of a university's vocation, like Ben Hubbard, program manager of the webcast project for the University of California, Berkeley.

Hubbard said the university's mission has been the same since the charter days back in the 1800s.

"It's threefold: there's teaching, research and community service. Probably in the 1800s they weren't thinking of it as the globe, but technology has really broken down those barriers of geography," he said.

Berkeley was the first university to launch webcasts in 1995, offering video and audio from its most sought after classes.

iTunes U was created by Apple in 2007 in an effort to allow schools to make material accessible only internally by students or externally by anyone. However, most schools do a little of both.

The online tools benefit both the community and those called "lifelong learners" who are curious for a lesson or two in engineering or economics.

However, schools say these services are powerful marketing tools that ultimately only provide one dimension of the college experience.

Stocker acknowledged that the real value in a college education goes far beyond the lectures that faculty give.

"It's a way for people to get a taste of what the Stanford experience is, but you're not getting a degree and you're not getting direct interaction with faculty," he added.


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