Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 17:34 EDT

Are Universities Sabotaging Themselves with Free Online Courses?

August 6, 2013

DALLAS, Aug. 6, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Very prestigious–and very expensive–universities such as Harvard and MIT are creating free online versions of some of their courses, and hundreds of thousands of students across the globe are signing up. In the Summer 2013 edition of Issues in Science and Technology, William B. Bonvillian of MIT and Susan R. Singer of Carleton College explain the reasoning behind this surprising behavior and speculate about this new approach to education could benefit students and the nation. They argue that the combination of new technology with advances in the science of how people learn is making it possible to experiment with a new model of learning that could make education more effective as well as less expensive. The goal is not to replace in-person learning with online courses but to blend the two in ways that enable each approach to do what it does best. The authors acknowledge that many of the details of this evolving business model need to be worked out and that there is a danger that some institutions and individuals will want to replace the classroom completely with the computer. They recommend treating the current period as an experiment and maintaining a focus on enhancing the quality of education.

Also in this issue, Hal Salzman of Rutgers University challenges the common belief that the United States has a serious shortage of scientists and engineers. Jon M. Peha of Carnegie Mellon University outlines a plan to significantly improve the nation’s public safety communications capacity through a public-private strategy. Morgan Bazilian and Roger Pielke, Jr., questions the assertion of green energy advocates that it will be possible to provide electricity to all the world’s people with increasing greenhouse emissions; they demonstrate that providing the amount of electricity people really need will require using all available technologies. Louis S. Jacobson and Robert J. LaLonde argue that too many people lack the information they need to make good choices about the type of education and training they should pursue. They recommend creating a competition among the states to develop the most cost-effective system for collecting, organizing, and disseminating the data that people need to make prudent choices. David E. Winickoff and Mark B. Brown propose an administrative system for managing research on the contentious technology for geoengineering the climate.

ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY is the award-winning journal of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the University of Texas at Dallas. www.issues.org

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Source: PR Newswire