From the get-go, life is a race to get the most prestigious schools on your resume to secure your dream job. But is the path fair for everyone? And are you retaining what you learn in the process? New studies based on the research of video and collaborative-based pedagogy suggest there’s a way to get the most bang for your buck while making higher education an accessible goal for anyone with an Internet connection. And, it all starts with a grander notion that institutions should not hold an oligarchy on credentials.
With technology that connects us instantaneously and more students than any other point in history, why are we paying the highest tuitions ever?
In an interview aired April 2011 between Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital and author of Crash Proof, and Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, they dissect two problems: institutions holding an oligarchy on credentials and government backed or issued student loans, propping up artificially high prices. If online education was an effective alternative, we could theoretically reduce costs, increase quality and reach more people easily. The best part is with economy of scale, the cost of education should be a fraction of what it is now.
Let’s start at the root of the problem
What are the problems facing K-12? Elementary schools today face overcrowded classrooms, resistance from the Teacher’s Union for evaluation, and a system of class rank that only gives the top percentile of students a fighting chance in top tier universities. It’s almost as if the system was created to favor students with parents who can afford either a high-income school district, private school, or the time to find a charter or magnet school. The first question to ask collectively is should students be barred from getting the best education because life didn’t fit neatly into a “standard”?
In a progressive society, we sure hope the answer is a resounding no.
A new hope: “the biggest change in education since the printing press”
The mustard seed for online education was none other than a former hedge fund analyst who noticed the ease and efficiency of teaching his cousins on YouTube. Salman Khan built a non-profit called Khan Academy that offers free videos that teach on a range of curriculum including: Algebra, Art History, and Banking and Money. The site has delivered 147,709,294 free lessons or almost half of America. Watch his TED talk below.
By arming teacher’s with data, progress reports and an intuitive knowledge map (see below), the Khan Academy lets educators maximize valuable time with struggling students, even allowing peers to tutor one another to compliment their strengths and weaknesses. Case studies of school districts using the online curriculum have de-buffed the “slow kid” theory to a mere coincidence of timing. Where traditional classrooms would move onto the next subject, online education lets students try and try until they master the material. Studies show students who were slow to master one topic would normally excel after they perfected that one area, which begs the question, how many students are “left behind” due to the method of teaching, says Khan in a TED talk.
If the online teaching formula works, are any higher education institutions adopting it?
Recently, Harvard and MIT announced the commencement of their first prototype of EdX, which allows anyone with an Internet connection to study the same content as campus students for free. Essentially it should lend an interactive platform to support MITOpenCourseWare (see below). Both universities will partner to study how technology effects the way people learn.
More people registered for the prototype course (an MIT level course on circuits) than the amount of total living MIT alumni, said President of MIT Susan Hockfield in the EdX press release. The passing rate was an encouraging 12% compared to average 56% rate of enrolled students. Third world students were already seen using videos to collaborate and social media to arrange meet-ups in local cafes to tutor and support each other. This adds support to data compiled in the “Hole in the Wall” experiments of Indian Education Scientist Sugata Mitra that proves even young children can learn from a computer without an instructor present and retain this information due to the interactive nature. On top of improving the way people can learn, EdX offers students a free certificate after satisfactory completion of the course to aid in job placement.
How would a MIT and Harvard certificate weigh against a Bachelors degree and would it open closed doors?
This is a good starting point and alternative to paying for an online degree at an accredited yet non-reputable college that may or may not stand out to employers seeking top tier university graduates. With EdX, avid learners can learn for free and demonstrate themselves capable as their campus counterparts. What won’t change overnight is employer’s preference to brand name universities unless institutions can debunk the myth that students from such places are smarter and more prepared to enter the workforce.
How to make a global classroom so future workers are equally competitive for tomorrow’s jobs?
Khan argues that “decoupling” credentials and degrees with learning should be the next government supported step in education, not dumping capital into random programs or going head-to-head with the Teacher’s Union. The principle is that learning is a birth right and technology should be leveraged to improve the quality and reach of how people learn. If there was a standard test everyone took to earn degrees and institutions were solely for learning, then would the incentive not be for employers and potential students alike to find the most bang for the buck?
It’s about that time for the final stone of globalization to be laid – the chief corner stone that guarantees equal opportunities of obtaining a piece of the wealth in this world we’ve all contributed to. We welcome the comments and opinions of educators, students and all who care about the future of education and with it, equality.
Charles works in Sales & Marketing at PQ Labs Inc. His interests are in men’s fashion, technology and society. He graduated from San Francisco State University and lives in San Jose, CA. You can subscribe to him on Facebook (facebook.com/charlesbecker) for frequents of his current obsessions.