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Columns October 5, 2011 //  by  // 8 Comments

Online education innovators should be wary

Some professors at elite universities are trying to devise a more economical university model, and they are using the Internet to do it.

Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor, is an advocate of the online university and has ambitious goals: producing lectures and live, online discussions to thousands of students at a fraction of the cost, rewarding students for honed skills instead of “grades,” and eliminating the inefficiency of large campuses.

Thrun is now offering free, online courses on artificial intelligence to over 100,000 students around the world. These courses teach the same material for which Stanford students pay $50,000 per year. Thrun offers dynamic, live lectures that end in a “Statement of Accomplishment,” but not Stanford credit. However, the opportunity to learn from the man who led the team that built Google’s self-driving car is probably incentive enough to take his course.

The high cost of a college education unfortunately perpetuates immobility between social classes; students from higher socioeconomic classes have almost automatic access, while students from disadvantaged neighborhoods have a much harder time.

Supplementing a student’s education with online classes reduces the amount of money they have to spend. If students attend class only two days a week and have online courses the other three days, they save on gas, food, university fees, and other costs.

However, what Thrun and other advocates of online universities do not consider are the non-academic skills and values that universities instill in students. Taking courses on a computer at home deprives students of a practical, social education that is necessary in most professions and not taught in high school.

How does somebody develop a personal relationship with a professor, or necessary networking skills when he or she is only one in a class of five thousand, and the only method of communication with peers and professors is through online chat or a discussion board? Professionals, especially service providers, need social skills almost as much as they need qualifications.

Another problem with online courses is cheating from lack of supervision. Thrun portrays students with an idealism that is inspirational, but seems to be ignoring reality. Anyone can sit behind a computer screen and take a course, including a friend of a person enrolled in that course. So, how do we know who is sitting behind that screen? Without a professor and teaching assistants, to whom is the student accountable?

Reducing the amount of money spent on a college education and increasing accessibility does not fix the problem of individual drive, appreciating the significance of one’s education, and whether or not students entering these classes can handle the material. Unequal opportunity and training in public schools also makes the “universal accessibility” dream unrealistic. To reap the benefits of these classes, students must have the proper training before they graduate. Otherwise, even a completely free education does no good.

Online courses are a great idea, they are already being used by some degree at most universities, but implementing the online change slowly may make room for constructive criticism and ensure that the system works as well as it could.

Rachel Farhi is a senior political science and English literature double major and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar. com.

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  • Peter Cao

    How do you feel when you learned the instructor of this 'Stanford course', Sebastian Thrun, had hyped this course to get you all in, in an effort to add his weight to rival ruling from authorities against his involvment into crimes, which had caused the murdering of an innocent student, for his sake to terrorize authorities and to threaten victim as I am, from his own school in Stanford?

    Stanford Computer Science Professor Google’s Eric Schmidt along with a Stanford Computer Science professor Sebastian Thrun had involved into crimes which had endangered human lives. Schmidt and Thrun’s side had murdered Stanford student May Zhou and they had plotted a murder on me as well, during their fight with Stanford to threaten me and to terrorize Stanford people. Schmidt and Thrun had not paid for their crimes so far. But this case is regarding to people’s lives, and when it regards to people’s lives, there should not be any compromise nor any dubious or obscure points left.

    more details Look-inside-dumbfounded [ http://tysurl.com/BsEnQ4 ]

  • Peter Cao

    …and it did happen as Eric Schmidt predicted so far, that police did not find out who murdered Stanford student May Zhou [ http://www.mayzhou.com ], which is very scary … Schmidt side told me: if they can’t win the case at judicial authorities, they could take my life as easy as getting rid of a bug … it is problems in Stanford Computer Science Department with their Professor Sebastian Thrun’s case that led to May Zhou’s death … who actually setup order in Stanford Computer Science Department? … Thrun, Schmidt, Scheler, and Thrun’s bosses in Stanford Computer Science departmet are all in debt to Stanford student May Zhou’s death.

    — An unheard of sandal in history of college education.

    When I disclosed his crimes, Eric Schmidt ran out of grounds and publicly sent me life threatening message [ http://tysurl.com/dsyyGp ]

    —- Peter Cao peter_vista@yahoo.com

    • Peter Cao

      more details Look-inside-dumbfounded [ http://tysurl.com/BsEnQ4 ] …and it did happen as Eric Schmidt predicted so far, that police did not find out who murdered Stanford student May Zhou [ http://www.mayzhou.com ], which is very scary … Schmidt side told me: if they can’t win the case at judicial authorities, they could take my life as easy as getting rid of a bug … it is problems in Stanford Computer Science Department with their Professor Sebastian Thrun’s case that led to May Zhou’s death … who actually setup order in Stanford Computer Science Department? … Thrun, Schmidt, Scheler, and Thrun’s bosses in Stanford Computer Science departmet are all in debt to Stanford student May Zhou’s death.

  • Peter Cao

    Sebastian Thrun had stubbornly and persistently stood on criminal suspect Gabriele Scheler’s side in support of Scheler’s false accusations in Stanford, which had profoundly complicated the situation and escaladed the tension in this case again and again, and which had caused death of this innocent Stanford girl May Zhou. I wouldn’t compromise with anyone of those who involved into such crimes which had cost human life, let alone Sebastian Thrun and Eric Schmidt’s side had plotted a murder on me as well during
    their later fight with U.S. authorities, and I am sure that’s Sebastian Thrun related as well (I’d
    tell more in this regard later).

    p.s. Thrun’s student Mr. David Stavens [ http://tysurl.com/rsy0fO ], had lied to Stanford police on behalf of Thrun trying to prevent me from filing complain at authorities against their crimes, if that’s forgivable for an educator …

  • Peter Cao

    Again and again, before this case could be clarified, Sebastian Thrun's name is not clear in these crimes which had cost human lives. I am waiting to see if Sebastian Thrun dare deny anything I said Look-inside [ http://tysurl.com/BsEnQ4 ]

  • Dan

    "How does somebody develop a personal relationship with a professor, or necessary networking skills when he or she is only one in a class of five thousand, and the only method of communication with peers and professors is through online chat or a discussion board?"

    How is that different from being in a class of 100 or more students in a traditional university? If someone values the "social skills" and other benefits of a traditional university less than the difference in price, doesn't even need further help in "social skills," or doesn't believe that sitting in a classroom is better than taking an online course, they should be able to get educated online. If online education works for the students, then I say full steam ahead.

    • Peter Cao

      course instructor Sebastian Thrun had involved into crimes which had caused murder of an innocent Student http://www.mayzhou.com as well as a plotted murder on me. He has not paid for his crimes so far.

  • livepaths

    You're correct. Online Self-learning is becoming fast the perfect choice of learning, especially with so many great educational videos available for free. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

    This effort is being done by: http://Utubersity.com which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There's also a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com

    This is a project that YouTube should embrace themselves, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.

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