Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Invisible students, invisible professors


Bill Keller in the New York Times, "The University of Wherever" ---
Meanwhile, one of Stanford’s most inventive professors, Sebastian Thrun, is making an alternative claim on the future. Thrun, a German-born and largely self-taught expert in robotics, 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. Testing, peer interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.

The traditional university, in his view, serves a fortunate few, inefficiently, with a business model built on exclusivity. “I’m not at all against the on-campus experience,” he said. “I love it. It’s great. It has a lot of things which cannot be replaced by anything online. But it’s also insanely uneconomical.”

Thrun acknowledges that there are still serious quality-control problems to be licked. How do you keep an invisible student from cheating? How do you even know who is sitting at that remote keyboard? Will the education really be as compelling — and will it last? Thrun believes there are technological answers to all of these questions, some of them being worked out already by other online frontiersmen.

“If we can solve this,” he said, “I think it will disrupt all of higher education.”
To read the rest, click here.

Over at University Diaries, Margaret Soltan posts a robust response which includes this:
UD has noted the personal identity/cheating problem mucho times on this blog. She would add to Thrun’s comment a related problem: How do you keep an invisible professor from cheating? The same business of handing the course over to someone else pertains for the instructor. Who is actually running discussions, grading assignments, presenting material?

If the course is merely the professor being filmed teaching, with all interactivity handed to teaching assistants, why shouldn’t the professor merely re-run her performance, with occasional updates and tweaks?
To read the rest of her post (and you should), click here.

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1 comment:

  1. First, for the record, there should be a class called Introduction to Intelligence. I would like to teach it, in real life, in a real classroom, as a Senate Faculty member. Like that's gonna happen. Second, this nonsense always happens around self-selecting classes and self-selecting hotshot academics (tenured, Senate faculty) around some course as this one. I teach Composition. I assigned students to locate and critique a book review, from a credible newspaper source. They couldn't. I wondered why. Here's why. They did not know what a book review was and, when I asked, only 3 of 22 had ever even read one. Online, invisible, virtual learning? Give me, and reality, a break. Puh-leeze.

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