I just listened to a great video discussion – Khan Academy and Stanford AI Class: Reinventing Education – with Peter Norvig, Sebastian Thrun, and Sal Khan. It’s a candid discussion of what each of these educators wanted to achieve with opening up their courses and content and some of the challenges they faced in the process. Most importantly, they (particularly Sebastian) discuss where they were wrong in their previous assumptions about learning.
I’ve been a bit frustrated in the past (actually, I still am) that the history of open courses has not been fully reflected in conversation about the Stanford AI class. People like David Wiley, Alec Couros, Stephen Downes and others have been running open courses since 2007 (this insidehighered article does touch on the history). Audrey Watters captures my thinking when she states: “What does it mean — culturally, pedagogically, politically, financially — that Stanford garners so much buzz for its free online courses while other MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) go unheralded?”. However, I’m sure there are educators pre-2007 who are saying “hey, we’re not getting credit for our work with open courses!”.
But that’s a personal ego gripe. It’s encouraging to see educators and trainers exploring the scaling capacity of learning through the use of technology. I enjoyed listening to the reflections of Sal, Sebastian, and Peter. They are excited, as many of us teaching open online courses are, about the capacity for accessible learning opportunities to increase student control and empowerment. Many of their proclamations (decoupling assessment from teaching, the creativity of learners when they don’t face organizational barriers, the power of the online experience) will be familiar to many who have followed our open courses. Interestingly, Thrun stated that online learners did better (by a factor of 2 with those making top grades) than in class learners.
It’s good to have growing diversity in researchers and educators offering alternative course models. As more people experiment with open online course, new tools will be developed and recognition of the value of open learning will also (hopefully) increase.