education's digital future

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If massive open online course offerings from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be described as a city, then computer science would be its vibrant downtown core, surrounded by less densely populated but no less characteristic neighborhoods of STEM, humanities and social sciences courses.

Silicon Valley’s “war for talent” has technology companies tempting potential recruits with benefits such as egg freezing, gourmet cafeterias and private shuttles. But few can match semiconductor producer Integrated Device Technology’s latest perk: a graduate school in the office.

Yale University is creating a master’s program that will hold many courses online, continuing the Ivy League institution’s foray into “blended” learning.

The online program, to be offered by the Yale School of Medicine, would aim to replicate its residential program for training physicians’ assistants. Students would meet in virtual classrooms where they would discuss course material using videoconferencing technology. They would also have to complete field training — accounting for roughly half of the coursework — in person, at Yale-approved clinics near where they live.

Kevin Carey has a 4-year-old girl. Carey, the director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation, has been thinking about the role of universities in American life for virtually his entire career. But after his daughter was born, that thinking took on a new urgency.

“All of a sudden there is a mental clock,” he told me the other day. “How am I going to pay for her college education? I wanted to write a book that asked, ‘What will college be like when my daughter is ready to go?’ ”

Three years ago, technology was going to transform higher education. What happened?

Over the course of a few months in early 2012, leading scientists from Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. started three companies to provide Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. The courses were free. Millions of students signed up. Pundits called it a revolution.

After a recent government crackdown on the multibillion-dollar career-training industry, stricter limits on student aid and devastating publicity about students hobbled by debt and useless credentials, some for-profit schools simply shut down.

But a few others have moved to drop out of the for-profit business altogether, in favor of a more traditional approach to running a higher education institution.

And the nonprofit sector, it turns out, can still be quite profitable.

Oe of the greatest presumptions in U.S. higher education is that a traditional undergraduate degree, earned in four years while living on or near campus, is a good way to prepare young people to get a job and become well-rounded thinkers, at least according to Mitchell Stevens.

Stevens, a Stanford University education professor, argues that large, prestigious universities like his are too slow to adjust to changing times.

In "Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education," (link is external) co-editors Mitchell Stevens, associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, and Michael Kirst, Stanford professor emeritus, argue that Americans need to rethink their understanding of learning after high school. The dream of the four-year residential campus is not a realizable one for many, they say, and "it may not even be a good idea."

The educational-technology market is flooded with companies that say their products will “disrupt” or “revolutionize” how faculty and administrators work and students learn. To cut through the noise, the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is launching an ed-tech accelerator that will help start-ups bring their solutions to the market -- if the product lives up to the company’s claims.

Even when real names and other personal information are stripped from big data sets, it is often possible to use just a few pieces of the information to identify a specific person, according to a study to be published Friday in the journal Science.

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