CRF Blog

Laptop U

by Shruti Modi

In Laptop U for The New Yorker, Nathan Heller explores the future of online education.

This spring, however, enrollment in Nagy’s course exceeds thirty-one thousand. “Concepts of the Hero,” redubbed “CB22x: The Ancient Greek Hero,” is one of Harvard’s first massive open online courses, or moocs—a new type of college class based on Internet lecture videos. A mooc is “massive” because it’s designed to enroll tens of thousands of students. It’s “open” because, in theory, anybody with an Internet connection can sign up. “Online” refers not just to the delivery mode but to the style of communication: much, if not all, of it is on the Web. And “course,” of course, means that assessment is involved—assignments, tests, an ultimate credential. When you take moocs, you’re expected to keep pace. Your work gets regular evaluation. In the end, you’ll pass or fail or, like the vast majority of enrollees, just stop showing up.

Many people think that moocs are the future of higher education in America. In the past two years, Harvard, M.I.T., Caltech, and the University of Texas have together pledged tens of millions of dollars to mooc development. Many other élite schools, from U.C. Berkeley to Princeton, have similarly climbed aboard. Their stated goal is democratic reach. “I expect that there will be lots of free, or nearly free, offerings available,” John L. Hennessy, the president of Stanford, explained in a recent editorial. “While the gold standard of small in-person classes led by great instructors will remain, online courses will be shown to be an effective learning environment, especially in comparison with large lecture-style courses.” [more]