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article imageOp-Ed: Open content YouTube courses from Berkeley ushers in revolution

By Paul Wallis     Oct 4, 2007 in World
It’s probably fitting that Berkeley, the home of the 60s free speech movement, is the one to pioneer top line online education. This might be the only way to save education from the spreadsheets. Because it's clear that the political Teletubbies won't.
The thunderous crash of old style education systems is one of the great, lethal, dangers to humanity. The number of graduates may have gone up, but a lot of people are being left out, and the demand for education and training is rising by the second.
Berkeley has put about 300 hours worth of its courses online. You could guess what that might be worth in conventional fees. Courses include Bioengineering, and “Physics Studies For Future Presidents”. (Wonder how they came up with that one.) There are nine full courses containing about 40 lectures, each.
According to this Sydney Morning Herald piece, (direct link to the YouTube videos on page) Berkeley has been heading online since 2001, when it began webcasts, then podcasts in 2006. They’re not only doing courses, either, there’s a bit of orientation, too, and obviously some free advertising. Economically, they’ve hit the demographic, perfectly.
Education seems to have been pretty slow to realize how much of its work can be tailored like this. Overheads are as rough in education as anywhere, and even allowing for the vagaries of management science, colleges need to get real before reality gets them.
Online content has advantages that education could previously only wince about. It can be managed, it can be monitored, it updates effortlessly at the user end, and it’s fundamentally cheap. Even interactive work is simpler, and a lot less of a space and time consumer. Students and teachers only have so much of themselves to go around. In terms of time management, it’s a lot less of a destructive agent than most conventional methods. It can free up space on campus and time off campus.
Education is at serious risk, globally. It’s a mess as it is, but the oncoming train wrecks will be even bigger. If costs don’t kill, student numbers will. There’s not a lot of ways around that situation, stuck to the old methods. Time and space are only so big. Logistics can do so much. The New Economy, when it happens, can’t wait for decades for someone to bother to come up with its training methods. (See dpa article re OECD comments on "astounding" growth in education in the West. It's happening, now.)
Economies won’t be able to function on massive increases in demand for human services with a constipated system dripping out reinforcements like a blocked drain. The days of the industrial serf are over, and they won’t be invited back, even by employers. It’s just too expensive. The days when a few random illiterates could run anything are very much numbered, as we’re seeing in politics and public policy every five seconds or so. They’re too slow, they don’t know the ropes, and by the time anyone with enough savvy gets on to the problems they create, the problems have become disasters. We can’t wait 20 years for fixes any more.
The New Economy will be extremely intolerant of skills shortages, and gluts in supply of people where they aren’t needed. Training a few million more lawyers might make sense in this society, (well almost make sense), but what’s the result? Litigation/legislation ad nauseam, contracts longer than the Bible? Not much of the current training and work practices will be left standing. Retraining will become a lot easier, not the Dance of the Statues that it is at the moment.
Berkeley has kicked the right heads with this idea. If the US colleges pick this up, education will modernize, globally, almost overnight. To compete at all, everyone else will have to do it. It will force modernization on this damned dinosaur of a sector.
There are quite a few possible rewards for the colleges, too. Education is big business, particularly at college level. Revenue for colleges could go through the roof, if they can deliver at rational prices.
Meaning they will be able to provide better services, do more research, and open up other revenue fields. Done properly this could literally get academia free of the endless restraints it currently faces.
The video approach has other, less obvious benefits. The repetition factor for teachers can be greatly reduced. Less treadmill, more productive work. There’s also the classic archive function. A record of the top level educators can be retained. Their methods can be studied, not lost or consigned to folklore. Records of any academic practice can become much more authoritative. Some of these people are making history, every day, so it won’t get dull, and the records will never be useless. The future might have more advanced sciences, but any historian or scientist can tell you that a lot can be achieved with reliable records.
I would think it would also have to be better for course management, too. More options can be a nuisance, but not having options can be a curse. Few topics exist in isolation, and with the growing need for multidisciplinary capabilities, I don’t see how anyone would miss the chance to create some really spectacular courses.
For students, it's a chance to see what they're getting themselves into, and what their commitments are going to be. At the very least, you get students who can find their way around a whole new culture and mode of life a lot more easily. They even have a built in network to work with, and check out how to use the colleges better. Much less waste and suffering, for a lot of people. No more Degree Identity Crises, Doctorate Schisms, and trying to find out what to do with a degree when you get it. No losers there.
In the old days, all of that would have been a Utopian dream. Now, it’s just a click away.
The revolution really is here.
****Courtesy cgull, this is a link to all the courses on one page
More about Berkeley, YouTube, Education economics
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