2010 November 04 Thursday
Online Classes For Students In Campus Dorms
Regular readers know that I've long argued for online accelerated education as a way to cut costs, speed entry into the labor market, and improve national finances. While bricks-and-mortar educational institutions are threatened by this development even major state universities are embracing online lecture delivery out of a need for lecture hall space.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Like most other undergraduates, Anish Patel likes to sleep in. Even though his Principles of Microeconomics class at 9:35 a.m. is just a five-minute stroll from his dorm, he would rather flip open his laptop in his room to watch the lecture, streamed live over the campus network.
U Fla does this because it does not have an available lecture hall big enough to hold all the students: 1,500 in a class.
The University of Florida broadcasts and archives Dr. Rush’s lectures less for the convenience of sleepy students like Mr. Patel than for a simple principle of economics: 1,500 undergraduates are enrolled and no lecture hall could possibly hold them.
Think about that. If most aren't going to be able to sit in the lecture hall to watch the live lecture then why only 1,500 watching? Why not 15,000 scattered across 10 campuses? Why not 30,000 more at home or perhaps on a beach or cafe? The marginal cost per additional student is very low online.
Of course, once people are watching their lectures via a video feed why only live feeds? Why not delayed watching of pre-recorded lectures so that someone can just sit down and watch an entire semester's course in 2 days? Think of the enormous convenience. It becomes far easier to hold jobs and to squeeze in learning when you have the time. Got a few weeks of vacation coming up? Watch several courses in evenings and weekends. Then on vacation watch them again, heavily study, take practice tests online, and then show up to a room to do proctored test taking. That is the way higher education should be done.
Any class that can use prerecorded lectures and online tests (a proctoring system still needed) with automated grading can be incredibly cheap to deliver. Why have thousands of basic economics courses offered by thousands of colleges when a much smaller number of courses could be prerecorded and delivered to tens or hundreds of thousands of students each year?
A group of states could get together and pool funds to produce recorded lectures for hundreds of courses. The number of college faculty could be cut in half and then cut in half again. This would enable a lowering tuition to a small fraction of current levels. For decades the cost of a college education has risen each year faster than the rate of inflation. Enough already. Time to use technology to push costs down.
The replacement for college would have to allow for comparing students to one another. You take the need for education at face value, and seek to deliver it in a more efficient manner. But most of the education is really not necessary, and it is useful because it is a screening device. It lets employers discern who is intelligent and conscientious. Online education has yet to pass this hurdle, of obtaining the value that an inherently divisive college degree imparts. For investment banking initiates, I imagine, their high school calculus and stats classes were sufficient training. I often wonder if someone could profit a bit by hiring math geniuses right out of high school.
Tests of specific skills that require intelligence and directed study seem like the best method to me. Actuarial exams are a good model. Instead of completing an expensive education credentialing program, people would have to score 90th percentile on a test to become say, a teacher (in addition to interviews and such). The lower the non-performance related barriers to entry to a profession, the greater everyone else benefits.
Part of the problem is that most middle class and reasonably intelligent people go to college, so opening up a job to those without college degrees doesn't really improve the quality or quantity of attractive job candidates.
Just like there is an oil cartel, there is certainly a certain cooperation between universities to keep their tuition fees high. Top schools like MIT are certainly not putting their best courses online, and even when they do, they only list some lecture notes in a rather incomplete way. The best professors will probably hesitate giving away their best lectures online for a low price, if their university tuition fees are threatened by this contribution.
Ultimately there will be competing private online universities, and then the prices of online courses will decline dramatically, but this will take time. Currently the online courses are also very expensive because there is no competition yet, and the multimedia technology is not yet sufficiently advanced. But within a decade, not only most undergraduate courses will be online as part of online degree programs offered by good universities, but there will also be wonderful electronic books with embedded videos and very advanced illustrating capabilities, so that it will be possible to study a book independently and then ace the courses. There will be college exams for various courses, so that a standardized credit system will be created and people will be able to get a grade in any basic undergraduate course and accumulate the credits for a good degree, and there will be various exams with varying levels of difficulty, certifying the competence of people. But a certain government intervention is needed to establish this system.
It would be a thrilling development for me. Im sick of hearing about students being intellectually bullied by professors to give mouth honor to various political viewpoints with the fear of social/academic alienation as the punishment. Thats a horrible learning environment to cultivate and it abuses peer pressure. Im anxious to see it broken like a bad habit.
If a hundred thousand students all watch the same econ lectures and all take the same tests they become easier to compare. Standard tests in basic chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, calculus, linear algebra, etc all available to millions of students mean they will be measured with the same tests.
Online education can serve as a better filter because online education can allow kids to demonstrate superior motivation and smartness. As I've previously argued: Online higher education available to teenagers of high school age would allow the smarter to demonstrate their smarts by going thru college material at a faster rate at a younger age. A 14 year old who starts earning college credit would stand out. An 18 year old with a college degree would really stand out.