Monday 22nd October 2012

by sophie

I’m going to make this short and sweet because I am techinically in Ethics recitation right now but 8 pm is way too late for any non-nocturnal attention span, in my opnion.

A few months ago I wrote a few thoughts on Coursera and other online learning companies. You can read my critique here and also the thoughts of another writer. In short, I argued that the idea of free knowledge is highly valueable, however virtual learning can never replace the priceless benefits of human-to-human interaction, and points to a serious need to raise the quality of university education.

At the time, I had never taken any online courses before or tried any of the programs. On principle I almost always prefer to speak with and learn from people in the flesh, and tend to be attracted to traditional modes of communication (paperback over e-book, etc.).

Fast forward to midterm season, where I suddenly find myself knee-deep in upcoming tests and no idea whatsoever of what the heck Gaussian-Jordan Elmination or the column space of a matrix is. My Linear Algebra professor, although incredibly well-meaning and intelligent, has a thick accent and ultimately a teaching style I just can’t swallow. In come Kahn Academy and MIT Open Courseware to the rescue– concise, clear lectures (including those by the author of the textbook!) available on re-wind and at my desk. 5 hours of youTube videos later, my problem set no longer looks like a headache in matrix form.

I don’t recant any of the things I previously stated. All the issues that I brought up remain unsolved. However, the potential of virtual education may be greater– and more exciting– than I previously imagined, and neither scary nor robotic. If there’s a topic you need brushing up on or a subject that intruiges you, definitely don’t hesitate to give it a try. This does not mean, however, that we need do away with the concrete classroom environment, only that both areas of education (virtual and traditional) remain endlessly improvable.

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