As online education platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udacity burst onto the scene over the past year, backers have talked up their potential to democratize higher education in the countries that have had the least access. These ambitions are now moving closer to reality, as more people begin to experiment with their setup, although significant challenges remain.
One of the major challenges for MOOCs (massive open online courses)—which so far mostly come from U.S. universities—is to tailor the content of courses to a diverse worldwide audience with any number of combinations of language, educational, motivational, and cultural backgrounds.
In February, edX, the nonprofit platform started last year at Harvard and MIT, added Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne as a partner. Though its first courses will be in English, the school is now thinking about offering a civil engineering course designed for Francophone regions in East and Central Africa, according to an edX spokesman.
As MOOCs cast their eye to the developing world, very minor tweaks matter a great deal, such as the ability to allow students to download, rather than only stream course videos. But even more major ones are coming, including edX’s plans to start open-sourcing its platform in the next few months, which could allow even more universities to post online courses, and software programmers around the world to experiment with customized interfaces.
Microsoft Research, which has offices in Bangalore, is working with universities on “massively empowered classrooms” that provide online lectures, forums, and quizzes to engineering undergraduates at many different schools taking the same computer science course. Another idea of interest in India is a Microsoft research project that scans the content of e-textbooks and pulls out the most important concepts that could be paired with online instructional videos. So an Indian professor, for example, could talk about electromagnetic fields next to a diagram from a physics text. Another project, called VidWiki, allows anyone to annotate a video with comments and text in their own language.
In Rwanda, a nonprofit called Generation Rwanda is getting started on an ambitious experiment that is likely among the first of its kind: an entirely MOOC-based university.
Though it is only entering pilot stages later this year, its eventual goal is to create a 400-person university in Rwanda, with MOOCs providing the lessons and teaching fellows guiding students through discussions and problematic areas. To start, the first students will try out a Harvard University course on Justice, and a University of Edinburgh course on Critical Thinking and Global Challenges, says executive director Jamie Hodari. Already, the program has struck a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University to test and certify associates degrees as its startup university gets off the ground, he says.
The nonprofit’s ambition is to offer full-year tuition for about $1,500 a year or less.
SOURCE- Technology Review
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