Dear Commons Colleagues,
Bill Keller in a column today in the NY Times, touches on many of the key issues in the discussion of higher education’s future: Will it be brick and mortar OR online environments OR both. Using Stanford University as an example, he refers/quotes John Hennessy, Stanford’s president, who has just put in a major bid to build a new university for 100 faculty and 2,200 students here in New York City in response to Mayor Michel Bloomberg’s request for proposals to establish a first-class school of high technology and engineering. This in many ways will be a traditional campus with a classes, library, dormitories, etc.
He also quotes one of Stanford’s most inventive professors, Sebastian Thrun, a German-born and largely self-taught expert in robotics, who is famous for leading the team that built Google’s self-driving car. He is offering his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online and free of charge. His remote students will get the same lectures as students paying $50,000 a year, the same assignments, the same exams and, if they pass, a “statement of accomplishment” (though not Stanford credit). When The Times wrote about this last month, 58,000 students had signed up for the course. After the article, enrollment leapt to 130,000, from across the globe. Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students.
Which way does higher education go? Keller concludes:
“I see a larger point, familiar to all of us who have lived through digital-age disorder. There are disrupters, like Sebastian Thrun, or Napster, or the tweeting rebels in Tahrir Square. And there are adapters, like John Hennessy, or iTunes, or the novice statesmen trying to build a new Egypt. Progress depends on both.”
Well worth the read!