Blank’s post (May 1)—http://bit.ly/ISyfA6—is very timely, given the growing number of interesting and potentially dramatic and disruptive developments in online education, including Massively Open Online Course initiatives (more in my next blog post on what MIT and Harvard has just launched in the form of edX), or MOOCs (which I discussed in earlier posts that described the AI course that Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig gave last fall and which has now spawned a startup called Udacity; http://www.udacity.com/). This morning I wrote a tweet to express my joy since Keith Devlin (Stanford’s “Math Guy”) sent me a note to let me know that he is now planning to offer a MOOC on “transition math” (to make it easier for freshmen to move from high school math to college math) so it is clear that MOOCs are gaining momentum around the country.
Blank included a great graphic in his post but before I comment on that, here are a few main points made in his post:
- The Strategy Committee Trap. Blank suspects that many academic institutions are likely to set up a strategy committee as a way to come up with the right innovative response to the need for an online strategy for their college or university. However, he thinks this is the wrong approach and will not produce a successful result. Innovation by committee just doesn’t work, he feels. Interestingly, the day after reading Blank’s post, I met with a friend who is working on a new online initiative for one of the California State Universities, and it was interesting to hear he has no strategy committee, and instead is a “one man committee” who proposes, gets input, redesigns and iteratively moves towards a solution for their university, but one that he knows will evolve over time as technology changes and students needs also evolve.
- Too complex and dynamic problem to solve. Blank refers to “NP complete problem”, which means that “the problem is so complex that figuring out the one possible path to a correct solution is computationally incalculable.” This is illustrated in his figure, shown below. It is interesting, however, that edx—a joint and collaborative online education initiative of Harvard and MIT (which I will discuss more in my next post)—was, I believe, a result of about a year’s work of a join committee from Harvard and MIT to come up with a radical solution to offering online education to the world for free (or almost free, as students can enroll for free but only have to pay a nominal fee for the certificate of completion).
Here is Blank’s graphic that shows that numerous issues and factors that must be considered when designing an online education offering. I will no doubt refer to this figure in future postings that will examine and comment on new online initiatives that I expect will explode in the next few years.