Society | DOI: 10.1145/2380656.2380664
in the Year of
As college tuitions soar, various online models vie
to educate college students worldwide—at no cost.
Peter norvig, left, and sebastian thrun’s “introduction to artificial intelligence” class is often considered the tipping point for the popularity of massive open online courses.
In retrospect, 2012 may well be remembered as the year when Internet technology enabled the popularity of MOOCs—or massive open online courses—
a form of disruptive or transformative
education currently growing at a meteoric rate.
In just the past several months, top
U.S. universities like Stanford, MIT,
Harvard, Princeton, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania
put some of their classrooms online,
giving countless students worldwide
access to a higher education never before within their grasp.
One of the most successful online
classes—some say it was the tipping
point for the MOOC movement—was
“Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”
taught by Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research, and Sebastian Thrun,
a Google vice president, last fall. More
than 160,000 students signed up and
23,000 completed the course.
“There had been decades of various
types of online classes,” says Norvig.
“It is just that now all the technology is
coming together to allow online class-
rooms of that size on a global basis.”
Those who may benefit most from
MOOCs are the people in the devel-
oping world who previously had no
access to consistent, quality second-
ary education at low cost. Indeed, of
the students who took Norvig and Th-
run’s class, one-third were from the
U.S., one-third were from Europe, and
one-third were from the rest of the
world, with the majority located in In-
dia and Brazil.
Meanwhile, brand-new platforms
such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity are
committing themselves to making the
best education in the world freely available to anyone who seeks it. There are
no qualifications—other than an Internet connection.
But whether they achieve the level
of success within the next five years
that some educators are predicting
depends entirely on how well the new
technology-based method of teaching
clears some very high hurdles.
“There is a crisis that has to do
how does one
the person doing
the work is
the person who
signed up for
with increasingly poor access to really high-quality learning opportunities,” says Richard Baraniuk, the
Victor E. Cameron Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at
Rice University. Thirteen years ago he
launched Connexions, the initiative
that offers free open-source textbooks
via the Web.
“Everyone talks about the rising
cost of health care,” says Baraniuk,
“but it turns out that the cost of edu-
cation is rising considerably faster.
Student debt just crossed $1 trillion
in the U.S. and it is the number one
form of debt now outside of mort-
gages. The problem is even worse in
developing world. This latest open
movement around courses, around
textbooks, and around certificates is
extremely exciting—and has a real
chance of becoming a disruptive force
However, three issues have risen