What MIT Should Have Done

Dan Butin

Ten thousand students have just taken the final exam in MITx’s course “6.002x Circuits and Electronics.” The sheer size of this course (120,000 first registered back in March), the high-wattage backing of MIT for a certificate of completion to all those who make it through to the end, and the free, open access nature of this MOOC (a “massive open online course”) seemingly ushers in a fundamentally new paradigm in higher education. When coupled with the recent headlines about similar ventures such as Coursera, Udacity, and MIT’s own new partnership with Harvard to form edX, the policy world has been positively aglow: David Brooks calls it a “campus tsunami”; John Chubb proclaims it an “historic transformation”; Thomas Friedman writes, simply, “welcome to the college education revolution.”
In one respect, such adulation is completely understandable. MITx has given anyone, anywhere, the chance to learn from a world-renowned professor at one of the top universities in the world and receive a certificate of achievement for so doing. And it’s just a matter of time before edX (or someone else) solves the logistics of user authentication to turn this certificate into transferable credit for a nominal fee. And as edX and others expand their computer-driven and fully-automated course offerings this fall into the humanities and social sciences (Coursera already has more than 9,000 students enrolled in its fall poetry course), the notion of place-based education seems no longer secure. As Kevin Carey has written, the “monopoly has begun to crumble. New organizations are being created to offer new kinds of degrees, in a manner and at a price that could completely disrupt the enduring college business model.”
Indeed. If I can take the vast majority of my general education requirements from top-notch professors at famous universities in the comfort of my bedroom, why should I ever again have to pay $400 per credit to get dressed, drive 20 miles to my regional college, search for a parking space, and attend a lecture in a massive auditorium with 300 other students listening to an adjunct I don’t know go through a PowerPoint lecture I could have scrolled through at 1.25X speed in the MITx course? In one fell swoop, every introductory college course in the country has been put on notice.
Full Text: elearn Magazine: What MIT Should Have Done.

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