Stanford’s President: Distance Learning is a “Tsunami”

Hennessy, [Stanford's President], believes that online learning can be as revolutionary to education as digital downloads were to the music business. Distance learningA  threatens one day to disrupt higher education by reducing the cost of college and by offering the convenience of a stay-at-home, do-it-on-your-own-time education. “Part of our challenge is that right now we have more questions than we have answers,” Hennessy says, of online education. “We know this is going to be important and, in the long term, transformative to education. We don’t really understand how yet.”

This past fall, Stanford introduced three free online engineering lectures, each organized into short segments. A hundred and sixty thousand students in a hundred and ninety countries signed up for Sebastian Thrun’s online Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class. They listened to the same material that Stanford students did and were given pass/fail grades; at the end, they received certificates of completion, which had Thrun’s name on them but not Stanford’s. The interest “surprised us,” John Etchemendy, the provost, says, noting that Stanford was about to introduce several more classes, which would also be free. The “key question,” he says, is: “How can we increase efficiency without decreasing quality?”

Stanford faculty members, accustomed to the entrepreneurial culture, have already begun to clamor for a piece of the potential revenue whenever the university starts to charge for the classes. This quest offends faculty members like Debra Satz, the senior associate dean, who regards herself as a public servant. “Some of the faculty see themselves as private contractors, and, if you are, you expect to get paid extra,” she says. “But, if you’re a member of a community, then you have certain responsibilities.”

…Stanford, like newspapers and music companies and much of traditional media a little more than a decade ago, is sailing in seemingly placid waters. But Hennessy’s digital experience alerts him to danger. He says, “There’s a tsunami coming.”

Is Stanford Too Close to Silicon Valley? – The New Yorker

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