Bill Gates on open education
I try not to get caught up in reading the tea leaves on foundation intents, but certainly sounds like the Gates Foundation is getting involved in the OER space. Exhibit A from the Gates Foundation letter.
The foundation has made a few grants to drive online learning, but we are just at the start of this work. So far technology has hardly changed formal education at all. But a lot of people, including me, think this is the next place where the Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning. With the escalating costs of education, an advance here would be very timely.
Most of us have had a teacher whose lectures made a subject seem fascinating even though we didn’t expect that it would be. If you are going to take the time to listen to a lecture, you should hear it from the very best. Now that finding and watching videos is a standard part of the Internet experience, we can put great teachers’ lectures online.
A number of universities are already putting lectures online for free. You can find a lot of these courses at sites like www.academicearth.org . I particularly like the physics courses by Walter Lewin and the solid-state chemistry course by Donald Sadoway, both from MIT. When I want to learn a new concept like the Carnot limit on getting usable energy out of heat, I often will watch lectures from different courses to see how it is explained and test my understanding.
But online learning can be more than lectures. Another element involves presenting information in an interactive form, which can be used to find out what a student knows and doesn’t know. This makes it possible to tailor the learning session to the individual student. Think about what happens to students who get into community college but are told to take remedial math because their test scores are below a cutoff level. The students have to spend time on the things they already know and don’t get to focus on the areas they are confused about. They get very little positive reinforcement from sitting in lectures. Most kids who are put into remedial math drop out before they ever get a degree because it is such a discouraging experience for them. On the other hand, the online system can quickly diagnose what the students know, provide positive feedback, and make sure their time is spent really improving the conceptual areas where they are weak.
Exhibit B, from the Daily Show:
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