There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week “Top Universities Put Instruction on the Web” (by Anne Marie Chaker, WSJ February 15, 2007) that I recommend. The article, as the title implies, discusses the efforts by several well known universities to post on the web instructional material taught at these universities. It would appear that through the various technologies used, the general public has access to course material and lectures from some of the university’s best professors. In addition to identifying several educational institutions that are posting lectures, the article discusses the different formats used (video clips, iPod casts, MP3 files, …) and an idea of the variety of topics that are available.
What I found particularly interesting were the rationales given for giving away what is essentially their product. Some postings are a result of grants from a well known philanthropic foundation. Some universities consider this effort a marketing tool, where potential future students have an opportunity to view courses before making the decision to attend. The most elusive and egalitarian rationale is “ – democratizing education – “.
The real question is the eventual impact.
Will this mean that future students will attend university for what is essentially free? I do not believe so … certainly not enough material will be posted to constitute a complete university education. Besides, I believe that a university education is more then attending lectures.
Will this attract the best and most intellectually active students to these universities?? Possibly …
What I would hope will happen, is that the universities with weaker teaching staffs will use this material to improve their course material, perhaps raising the level of instruction across the board. Taking the best and propagating those concepts and ideas throughout the whole is basic to improved efficiency and productivity.