SAVE THE DATE
Thursday, November 21, 2013
2:00 PM in UMC 245
John Cohen and Helen Macfarlane, both from the School of
Medicine, will present a provocative and controversial lecture on "The End of the Universities" on
Thursday, Nov. 21, at 2PM in UMC 245. Their brief bios and an abstract follow.
Helen Macfarlane is the Director of Education Technology for the School of
Medicine MD Program. That means that Helen gets to see up close all
technologies in education that we rely on to make things better and
easier...fall short. This keeps her up at night pondering and plotting what it
would look like if everything was better. Helen has a Masters in Medical &
Biological Illustration from Johns Hopkins, which surprisingly, is completely
relevant to her current position. In addition to being the co-organizer of the
Café Sci at the Wynkoop,
she directs the development of the CU Mini Med School. She and JJ Cohen are now
working feverishly on preparing an online version of the Mini Med School
J. John Cohen is Professor of Immunology at the CU School of Medicine. He has 5
degrees from McGill University in Montreal (oddly, that's precisely the average
winter temperature) including an honorary DSc in 2011
for his work in public outreach education. His research involves the role of
apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in the immune system; his group showed
that the famous killer T cell actually convinces its victims to commit suicide.
Lately he's most interested in teaching and in studying how people learn and use what they've learned.
The End of the Universities?
In the US, as state funding for public universities declines to near-zero,
students are asked to make up the shortfall. To many, this model is
unsustainable: students and their families won't be able to afford the costs,
and some will calculate that they are unlikely to ever earn back those costs.
Against this background, enter the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course).
Just over a year ago, Sebastian Thrun
and Peter Norvig
at Stanford decided to put their CS221 artificial
intelligence course on a platform that anyone in the world could join. It was
extensively hyped, and eventually 160,000 people signed up for it. Now, it's
true that only 23,000 were still in it after the first few sessions, and only
6,000 finished the final test; but that must be compared to the 200 or so who
take the course on campus. Successful students received a "certificate of
completion" but no course credit.
Shortly after the course ended, Thrun
to join two others in founding Udacity
, a for-profit
MOOC-delivery organization. The courses are of reasonable quality, and all so
far are in physics and computer science. Udacity
millions in venture capital, which allows them to make online presences with
high production values, but it's not yet clear how the VCs think they will make
back their investment; so far, all courses are free.
About free: free for a MOOC means as in "free beer;" free in Denver
Free University means as in "free speech."
So here's what we've been thinking about: "Free beer" is not a
A. It's a loss leader: lure students in and get them hooked on your courses,
then convince them that if they pay, they'll profit; this is The Old Dope
B. It's a predatory move: break and destroy the poorer competitors (as Amazon
did to Borders; Wal-Mart did to Middle America; China may do to the world).
Once your competition is gone, you make the rules and set the prices. Sebastian
"in 50 years there will be no more than 10 higher education
institutions." Is this his plan?
Universities will need to fight back by pushing the narrative that the
on-campus experience can't be matched by impersonal online courses. This will
be a difficult task, as they'll have to prove that it's not only better, but
(let us say) four, or ten, times better, depending on what MOOCs eventually
cost. Universities lose money charging $10,000 a year in tuition, but an online
school can charge far less and profit. The classroom will always be a boutique,
but online can scale.
This brief overview only scratches the surface of the discussion of what MOOCs
will do to education. One thing is sure: All bets are off, and everything is on
the table; there are no longer any established truths in higher education.
Seating in UMC 245 is limited. If you plan to attend please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Significant others are welcome to attend.