How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education
If you want to perform a proper string quartet, they noted, you can’t cut out the cellist nor can you squeeze in more performances by playing the music faster. But that was then — before MP3s and iPods proved just how freely music could flow. Before Google scanned and digitized 7 million books and Wikipedia users created the world’s largest encyclopedia. Before YouTube Edu and iTunes U made video and audio lectures by the best professors in the country available for free, and before college students built Facebook into the world’s largest social network, changing the way we all share information. Suddenly, it is possible to imagine a new model of education using online resources to serve more students, more cheaply than ever before.
“The Internet disrupts any industry whose core product can be reduced to ones and zeros,” says Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of education startup Knewton. Education, he says, “is the biggest virgin forest out there.” Ferreira is among a loose-knit band of education 2.0 architects sharpening their saws for that forest. Their first foray was at MIT in 2001, when the school agreed to put coursework online for free. Today, you can find the full syllabi, lecture notes, class exercises, tests, and some video and audio for every course MIT offers, from physics to art history. This trove has been accessed by 56 million current and prospective students, alumni, professors, and armchair enthusiasts around the world. “The advent of the Web brings the ability to disseminate high-quality materials at almost no cost, leveling the playing field,” says Cathy Casserly, a senior partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who in her former role at the Hewlett Foundation provided seed funding for MIT’s project. “We’re changing the culture of how we think about knowledge and how it should be shared and who are the owners of knowledge.”
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