UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium at Sunset

My Thoughts on Online Education

This was written a few weeks ago during midterms and I’ve finally gotten a chance to actually clean it up a bit—since my first draft was not good at all. Actually, this could probably use a bit of cleaning up, but I figured I might as well share some thoughts. :)

Midterms week: I’m admittedly stressed from probably (err, definitely) not having studied enough multivariable calculus these past couple weeks and have found myself on YouTube. (Naturally, I’m watching one of the many excellent videos by Sal Kahn or “PartrickJMT” or MIT’s 18.02 course.) So, what hit me?

This was my moment for really seeing the value of online education. To be sure, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of learning online and the opportunities it can offer, but I’ve never been one to scoff that the traditional university either. I mean, I love almost everything about college so far, except exams naturally.. And I don’t love the old notion of learning something just because you’re supposed to, or just because there’s an order to it.

Fortunately, there’s a way around the latter problem—sort of. I’ve found myself more interested in, and indeed singing for graduate level courses offered at Berkeley. That’s not to say I’m above the rest of my undergraduate education already, but the topics and types of classes which are available here for graduates are FAR FAR more interesting a much less pedantic than those required of undergraduates.

Back to YouTube. That class I’m studying for by watching YouTube videos is Math 53, or a common course in Multivariable Calculus. Naturally it makes sense as a prerequisite for most later mathematics, engineering, or computer science and science courses. However, why should I take a standard class (of material from which I can learn pretty much anywhere) and be spending thousands of dollars to teach myself? I don’t mean that this should even be a totally different case were my professor to be competent (though I can assume you that while his Math knowledge is great, none of it has transferred over to the realm of teaching). Why can’t I have a way of just taking these types of classes online and then focusing on the classes which are interesting or unique?

And that’s been the case for the graduate courses I’m interested in, and indeed a few very unique undergrad courses as well. (Though, I’m actually working to help bring one of those courses online.) The first graduate course I enrolled in was CS294, which is a seminar on education technology at large scales. It’s an incredibly interesting class and a format which the personal interactions make all the difference. In addition, I’m working with the professor on an online education platform. The next class I’m signing up for is CS301 or Teaching CS Education which is normally required only of Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) and not for undergraduate TA’s. Currently, I’m auditing CS302 (301’s small, seminar based follow up course) because the professor is awesome, and the topic is interesting.

But why does it have to be this way? What basis is there for saying the undergraduates should be relegated to the rank and file approach which we currently use (with only some success I might add) for elementary and secondary education. Graduate level education is prohibitive to many (and more so than a standard 4 year degrees) so why can’t we start changing the model sooner, rather than later? I hope you’ll watch this amazing video by Sir Ken Robinson about Changing Educational Paradigms. In reality, I don’t think there’s any reason we need education to work this way, but as many things are-the system is just stuck in its ways. I think the emergence of the “flipped” or “inverted” classroom shows that we clearly are ready for change. This is the idea that the lecture becomes a homework assignment and students work on homework in front of a teacher where they can get rapid feedback.  I don’t know that this is really the correct answer as there are many obvious problems (like concentrating at home) but it shows that there are definitely paradigms that are breaking down. I love lectures — when done right — but even then, it’s clearly obvious they’re not the end-all-be-all of education.

So, I’m not exactly sure if any of this is really new, but maybe it gets you thinking. :)

Originally Posted:  Apr 21, 2012 at 02:55 pm