education's digital future

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In 2012, most students preferred to do their online study at an institution in their home state. Undergraduate students at historically black colleges and universities were more likely to complete part of their education online than were students in general. West Virginia was the only state where students taking face-to-face courses didn’t make up at least half of the total student body.

If any institution is equipped to handle questions of strategy, it is Harvard Business School, whose professors have coined so much of the strategic lexicon used in classrooms and boardrooms that it’s hard to discuss the topic without recourse to their concepts: Competitive advantage. Disruptive innovation. The value chain.

But when its dean, Nitin Nohria, faced the school’s biggest strategic decision since 1924 — the year it planned its campus and adopted the case-study method as its pedagogical cornerstone — he ran into an issue. Those professors, and those concepts, disagreed.

“De-identified” records of more than a million people who took part in the first year of massive open online courses offered by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been released to researchers, the two institutions said on Friday.

The institutions said the records had been “subjected to a careful process of de-identification: removing personally identifiable information, using best practices including aggregation, anonymization via random identifiers, and blurring to reduce individuality of sensitive data fields, among other techniques.”

In the fall of 2011, a group of Stanford computer science professors opened up their in- person classes to anyone in the world with access to a computer and an Internet connection. The response was astounding. Hundreds of thousands of students from all over the globe signed up for the challenging classes. Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig’s course on artificial intelligence (AI) attracted 160,000 students from 190 different countries, more than 20,000 of whom finished and received a letter certifying their accomplishment.

Students, education providers, and employers call massive open online courses one of the best ways to learn web-development skills, according to a report released on Thursday by the European Commission.

The report, which drew on a survey of about 3,000 people, including 731 students, said that only one student in four was not familiar with MOOCs and that about 64 percent of the respondents had taken such courses.

Eric Mazur, a professor of physics at Harvard University, will receive the first Minerva Prize for Advancements in Higher Education for his pioneering work on peer instruction in the classroom. The award, which includes a $500,000 cash prize, is offered by the Minerva Academy, a nonprofit offshoot of the entrepreneur Ben Nelson’s for-profit Minerva Project, which aims to create an elite online liberal-arts college.

Online education is changing the way we learn, where we learn and how we think of higher education. Stanford Online is pioneering advances in teaching and learning at Stanford – and beyond – as its new report, "2013 in Review," describes.

The 32-page document reveals the explosive growth at Stanford Online – 1.9 million people from almost every country in the world have registered for one or more courses, and learners have spent more than 4 million hours engaging with Stanford Online courses since the fall of 2012.

Massive open online courses will not fundamentally reshape higher education, nor will they disappear altogether. Those are the conclusions of separate reports released this week by Teachers College at Columbia University and Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit advisory group.

Pennsylvania State University has 16,000 students enrolled in its online World Campus. In the next decade, the university wants that number to rise to 45,000.

Penn State’s new associate vice provost for online programs, Renata S. Engel, is expected to play a large role in moving toward that goal. Ms. Engel, who is 54 and a professor of engineering science and mechanics and engineering design, says she has a few ideas about where to begin.

She wants to engage with more professional organizations, provide a stronger base of introductory courses, and add new majors.

A generation of young Americans is bearing the brunt of decades of runaway college costs. Graduates are entering the workforce with staggering student loans that are inhibiting their ability to buy homes, cars and start families.

Massive open online courses—or MOOCs—hold the promise of bending that cost curve down. The genius of MOOCs is that they can reach millions of students. Their Achilles' heel, if they have one, is that they are impersonal.