The recent discussion created by Stanford student, Ben Rudolph, in his blog post about the Rigor of Stanford’s Free Classes, is a good opportunity for us to step back and critique the larger picture of our digital course delivery strategies. The reality for most of us is that we will deal with an increased adoption of online interaction in higher education teaching and learning. For pure online courses there are best practices, similar rules for blended or hybrid delivery and yes traditional course delivery can benefit from the adoption of online tools. But we have to keep a proper focus on what the product really is. For the traditional college degree which still relies on a Face-2-Face model, that product may be less about the dissemination of information but it will always be about the shaping of knowledge.
Stanford student, Ben, does ask some valid questions about why his course experience may be diluted by a course design that caters to a massive public audience. And it may be that this specific course lost its true compass, but it has caused me to consider where this may be headed. I think most of us have been intrigued by the increased amount of open access to courses at some of our most prestigious institutions. I have written it off mostly as publicity that they can afford. Of course it does offer valuable structured learning material that is sometimes helpful to other educators. And these open courses that Stanford and MIT have offered that connect a form of certification of completion do move toward a new form of a student’s accreditation of learning. This is good for our society, it provides opportunity for all. But let’s make sure we in higher education understand our product. We help a student transform information into knowledge and hope to mold their character so they utilize that knowledge to benefit a greater “Good” for all. Higher Education must deliver a version of that product and our warranties must be true to the expectations of our students.