Online, Bigger Classes May Be Better Classes

A new article from The Chronicle of Higher Education expands the debate on openness versus control in online learning. In it, Professor Stephen Downes of the University of Alberta shares his experience with a class of over 2300 students.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Online, Bigger Classes May Be Better Classes

Experimenters say diversity means richness

By Marc Parry

In his work as a professor, Stephen Downes used to feel that he was helping those who least needed it. His students at places like the University of Alberta already had a leg up in life and could afford the tuition.

So when a colleague suggested they co-teach an online class in learning theory at the University of Manitoba, in 2008, Mr. Downes welcomed the chance to expand that privileged club. The idea: Why not invite the rest of world to join the 25 students who were taking the course for credit?

Over 2,300 people showed up.

They didn’t get credit, but they didn’t get a bill, either. In an experiment that could point to a more open future for e-learning, Mr. Downes and George Siemens attracted about 1,200 noncredit participants last year. They expect another big turnout the next class, in January.

The Downes-Siemens course has become a landmark in the small but growing push toward “open teaching.” Universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have offered free educational materials online for years, but the new breed of open teachers—at the University of Florida, Brigham Young University, and the University of Regina, among other places—is now giving away the learning experience, too.

Full article available at http://bit.ly/bYNdFe

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