Monday, December 28, 2009

Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative

Carnegie Mellon now has a set of Open & Free Courses that use a highly sophisticated tutorial system. They did a study comparing a class of students using the tutorial system for statistics to a traditional statistics class: the students did equally well in both courses. (Of course, knowing traditional statistics courses, that doesn't necessarily mean they did well.)

Now CMU is going to attempt to devise hybrid courses that use the tutorial system to teach the basics, while the professor works on problem areas and can also get into more detail on more interesting things (real life applications, big picture aspects, or ethics all come to mind) .

Besides the statistics course, CMU has courses up for Engineering, Logic, Chemistry, Biology, Phyiscs, Economics, French, Empirical Research Methods (under development but available), Computational Mathematics, and Visual Communication Design. They are all open and available to anyone (as non credit tutorials).

CMU is even providing instructors with a platform to make their own versions of the courses. Some courses will have a fee for students; others are grant supported. Since the fees listed are between $15 and $60, this is the equivalent of a cheap textbook.

This is a fantastic step forward in the open course arena, started by MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative. It also gives some hints about what could be the future of higher education--not the content of courses, but the expertise of professors. Will we eventually see a more open marketplace of university level course, where you take basic courses from wherever might be convenient (or perhaps where a special feature is offered, like one-on-one tutoring, or a famous expert) and then concentrate on the major at a single school (or two)? How does that affect the cash flow of a university, and accreditation? Will we see "design your own major" programs? More credit by examination?

It's both intriguing and terrifying.


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