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A Free, High Quality On-Line University? 246

Lawrence Brown writes: "Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy, has donated $100 million towards creation of an on-line university which he says will offer an 'Ivy-League quality' education to anyone for free." Same idea as the Cooper Union. Okay, that's one billionaire putting his money to good use. What about the rest?
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A Free, High Quality On-Line University?

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  • If money were the only requirement to good education, we'd have a bunch of damned smart kids. Near me is a town of 6000 people. There is a public school, grades 4th to 8th. This school received about $200,000 from the government. To teach them something worthwhile, you may ask? Nope. It was a grant to combat that evil menace, bullies. You see, it seems too many kids are unhappy, the worst of this nations evils. This is the sort of government we have in the US. Is it no wonder we come last in all those education comparison studies worldwide? For some of the nation's youth, learning things isn't how they expect to make it to college, but by sports. I know this kid that was recruited when he hadn't finished high school to play hockey in a Canadian university. Sports are nice, but should it become their career at age 16?

    But it's a good thing there is the National Education Association, to protect our kids from evil Republicans wanting them to learn something, or even worse, expect teachers to teach something. Money is being sent to schools nationwide, and it all goes to the dozens of levels of administration. Increasing the amounts being given to schools from people's paychecks will only line the administrations with more employees. It's time for good ol' fashioned capitalism to kick in. It's about time parents were able to decide where to send their children.
  • Note that I didn't limit the donations to public institutions.

    That said, many of the problems are about supplies. I'm talking about the run-down schools with out-of-date materials. Institutions where school pride is a foreign concept. Placing the blame entirely on unions is, I think, a cop-out. The problems run much deeper than that. Teacher's strikes are an indication of poor working conditions, lack of pride in the workplace and destructive arguments rather than constructive discussions.

    Why don't we make school fun again? Let's improve our facilities so teachers enjoy their work! If teachers are in a workplace of which they are proud to be a part, I think you'll see these sorts of problems go away.


  • I don't know about that. In Detroit, the school board was essentially disbanded and re-formed in an attempt to kick-start a sagging school system, so things can be done. And if not, send the money to private schools, whether directly or in the form of vouchers or scholarships.

    In any event, I don't think much experimentation is required. Resources are required. Let's fill our poor school libraries with books and magazines. Let's improve the facilities by making much-needed repairs and expansions. Let's hire more teachers to reduce class size and provide more individual attention. It's not rocket science.


  • You make a very good point. A world-available high-quality education could do wonders. It also won't work over the web.

    Where are most of the world's population going to get internet access? Sure, the country might provide publicly-accessible terminals if there weren't more pressing needs such as feeding the populace. Unfortunately, the people that could benefit the most from on-line education are exactly those who can't make use of it.

    Perhaps the money could be used to improve the infrastructures of developing nations. Building roads goes a long way.


  • I got much more out of college than engineering and science. I probably got more out of my philosophy and music classes than I did out of most of the science or math courses.

    I developed leadership abilities in various clubs and organizations. I was able to make use of various skills in these same organizations. -- skills that I treasure every day and provide an escape from my regular work.

    Call me a bleeding-heart Liberal-Arts sympathizer if you want to. I'll take the compliment


  • First off, when you donate money, you get to specify where it goes. There should be no problem with the money feeding red tape, because it can be directly specified that it go only to purchasing supplies and resources for the school.

    Or why not use the money to set up a voucher/scholarship system? That way you give disadvantaged kids a chance while at the same time setting up competition.


  • Yes, wages will always differ. But right now, the poorer poeple in this country have almost no chance of improving their status. I'm not saying it can't be done. But the barriers in place are large. I'm advocating removing those barriers. It will probably take a lot more than money.

    Right now there is a critical shortage of tech. workers. Why can't we provide quality education and fill this need? The jobs are there. We just need to create the skills.

    As for the minimum-wage jobs, wages might just go up if more people can get a quality education and find more lucrative employment. We're already seeing a shortage of store clerks, etc. due to the booming economy.


  • Excellent point. There's a lot of subjects that I'd love to know more about but never got the chance to take the classes in college. Lately, I've been buying audio tapes from the Teaching Company on all kinds of subjects including Philosophy, Psychology, Economics, etc. It's somewhat expensive but I love the material. If this kind of stuff were available online, I'd be a total addict.
  • Like it or not, it's coming.

    Like every other change, it's got good points and bad. The benefits of personal interaction will clearly be missing, but the benefits of better accessibility will make online education unstoppable.

    Instead of complaining about imagined shortcomings, let's focus on maximizing the benefits and minimizing the negative aspects.

  • As a side note: what paranoid fantasy prompts the statement Universities will lose control of knowle4dge, as they should ? What knowledge do they control: calculus? thermodynamics? Kant?

    He probably meant something like Universities will lose control of the dispensing of knowledge.
  • Interesting point. Perhaps higher education was chosen because it's easier and doesn't create conflicts with the giant behemoth that is the US public education system(s).

    Who's to say that the idea won't expand to cover primary and secondary education later. It certainly would be a tremendous boost to those parents who are attempting home schooling.

    Finally, the target audience for this idea is "the world" and if, as I suspect, the program is initially set up in English, then there is less of a language barrier for adults.

    Still, it's an interesting point.
  • First, $100 million is actually not that much when you realize that the total amount of money spent on primary and secondary education in the US is around $300 billion.

    Second, while more money will probably help some, a restructuring of the system would probably do far more than could be done with merely more money. The current system has outcomes typical of any huge, centrally planned bureaucracy. Even school buildings look like they are the result of some failed socialist experiment.
  • Yes!

    And do the same for the students. The biggest crime committed by the current system is that schools teach children that learning is hell. This is contrary to human nature. And it's a disaster for the kids and society.

    Did/Do you love going to school? Did/Do you look forward to constantly learning new ideas and facts? Why not?
  • My understanding of ecomonics says the opposite. More education == higher productivity. Besides, low skill jobs are being replaced with mechanization. With more education, people on the lower rungs of the workforce have a way to climb up to better paying jobs. Without it, they will eventually be replaced.
  • It has been said that the idea of money changing people has always been a myth. That what changes when you have money is how many of your own wishes you can fulfill.

    In other words a jackass with a few billion is still a jackass and cool geak is still a cool geak. Most people have no desire to actually spend a billion dollars on themselves. Most billionaires think of it as taking care of some "basic stuff" like securing the future of the grand kids to the 5th generation or so with "safe" investments. A few homes and some cars, maybe a jet.

    After that you look back and you still haven't cracked the Billion Dollar mark yet. That levees you with some money you could literally give away. However most of the current crop of Billionaires grew up with a distaste for the old stile charities. Some won't even give to the Red Cross.

    So you have the same creativity that got them all wealthy in the 1st place being brought to beer on the problem. This is why Bill has a building named after him at an Ivy League school. He also sponsors more scholarships than anyone keeps track of. Including one on African History.

    This goy is being a little more creative than most. He is thinking: What future is there for the young person who after high school can hold a job but has no way of affording university ? Sure in the US it may not be that tough but there are other countries where the best jobs you can land on a high school education pay a fraction of the tuition for university. A classic catch 22 that leaves only the wealthy and the few scholarship winners getting farther education.

    An online university, once it's up and running will cost a lot to keep going. Especially in the area of content creation. The upside of this is that it can be "affiliated" with other brick and mortar school so a lecture presented at Princeton can be available in MP3 at the site. That will still cost money but not nearly as much as paying these professors to deliver the lecture to a camera and mike alone.

    The really tough part will be the books. Most new books, in fact everything written for the past 80 years is still copyrighted. A few works out of that are available online. This school may be in a position to negotiate with those professors who still own the copyrights.

    All in all a very smooth move.
  • Computers and the web in general have have had surprisingly little impact on access to higher education. The idea of publishing free high quality curricula on the web is a step in the right direction, and is very much in the spirit of the free software movement. At my alma mater, Cornell Univerity, the university seal reads, "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." I guess the can now be modified to read, "I would start a web site were any person can download curricula for any study."
  • The objections to a free online university have been very interesting. In many ways, they are a mirror image of how the recording and motion picture industry associations and other vested interests in the status quo respond:

    1) You would not like the results. Really! All kinds of people that don't have university degrees today would be getting them. Oh the horror. What it really means is that a scarce resource is no scarce, and the gatekeepers of that resource are irrelevant.

    2) There would be no sense of community. Nevermind the built-in irony of bruiting that argument on /., one must ask: "What Internet do these guys use?" It is a natural extension of the success of online community that an online university should be tried.

    3) That online education "would be of little worth." Subtext: Online education would change the business model of brick-and-ivy education in ways that might be uncomfortable.

    All this is very similar to what entrenched interests in other fields that are being cracked open by the Internet say: You won't like it, you'll feel wierd about it, and it takes food out of our mouths. In all other instances these arguments have amounted to nothing of substance. I think education will be very different for my childeren than it was for me. Hopefully, instead of tution, they will have hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest either in their own businesses or for savings. That economic change alone could put our so-called "new economy" in the shade of what will be.

  • I don't think this plan could possibly be successful. I think good use of $100 million for education would be scholarships for poor kids.
  • The Open University [], although based around rather older technology is an interesting model. It was set up in the 1970s and uses, TV, radio (and these days distribution of video and audio tapes) and printed course notes to deliver a pretty full range of courses, leading to a British degree after (normally) 6 years of part-time study.

    Their qualifications are well-respected, and their audio, video andprinted course material is top quality, but it is not a cheap thing to do. Firstly the production costs of good material are high -- they employ top lecturers and professional TV production crews and a much higher level of display equipment and technical support than you'd see in a "face-to-face" lecture, and the course material has to be revised every 5-10 years depending on subject -- if nothing else, the lecturer's clothes and hair styles start to look rather laughable.

    They also employ tutors all over the country to run face-to-face small group tutorials (I think most students get about 2 per month) or, where people are very scattered, audio, video or internet chat conferences.

    You can make distance learning work really well, and the internet helps a little, but it is not dramatically less work, or cheaper, than a conventional university.

  • i think part of the issue here is a fundamental break away from traditional styles of teaching and learning. An online university does not necessarily have to be governed by normal rules such as testing procedures, or more importantly whether there are tests. Unless they want 100 million dollars down the tube, they will find a way to circumvent cheating, be it through new and interesting ways, some fancy footwork in server scripts, good old essay tests, or maybe even chatting with the professor. The point is the field is wide open and very exciting.
  • One thing to remember about the ultra rich is that they don't always have a lot of cash sitting around. Even an evil bastard such as Bill Gates doesn't keep $5B stuffed under his mattress. It's tied up in company stock. If he gives away that stock, he looses control of the company.

    Yes, there are tax writeoffs, but at that level of wealth I doubt they make too much difference. This is more than likely someone who is approaching the end of their career and no longer needs to have so much wealth. Back to Bill Gates again, he has stated that he has no intention of leaving more than a few hundred million to his kids. That means that Bill could end up being the biggest philanthropist in history as he gives away $100B+ over the next twenty or thirty years.

  • Probably will work OK for people interested in
    picking up job skills, whether as a first
    degree or continuing education.

    For the minority interested in a learning community,
    you'd still "goto school".
  • Much of "attending school" is socialization
    in the classroom and outside the classroom.
    As the technology improves you could probably
    replace large lectures by quality videos,
    and recitation sections by interactive video
    chat rooms.

    However a large component of many jobs is
    interacting with other people. Would the
    lost socialization harm this? Schools now dont
    always teach the teamwork used in business,
    even the software business.
  • This was a point I meant to make but didn't.

    The online Universities, since they are by definition 'non-traditional' will not be able to offer "meaningful" degrees... There is a game involved in University education.

    "Ah... so you graduated from Yale, eh?" means that you went through the process of 'ball-licking', and the frat-parties, and got the 'rounded education' that so often breaks a perfectly good 'in major' GPA.

    The requirements that make us jump through hoops seem to somehow prove to employers that we're well rounded, and able to juggle conflicting responsibilities and such. Whatever all that means.

    An online VR. U. that lets students choose their courses for a sum of credits, without requiring the English Lit and soft-science and history that, frankly, doesn't interest us much, will never be seen as anything other than a self-study course set, or a trade school.

    They won't have the prestige of CMU, MIT, RPI or any other respected tech school, because they will not subject their students to the same rigors - both in terms of 'rouded' curricula AND the IRL politics that we have to play with professors and administrator.

    Now, for the record, I believe in the value of a 'rounded' education. Hybrid knowledge is a good thing, and it makes for an interesting experience. But, having done it both ways, I can see the University process as a huge racket as well.

    As for suggestions, I have two:
    1. Smaller state schools tend to be more flexible than larger ones. My experience with CCSU is better than with UCONN. Better schedule, more aligned to the commuter population that also works for a living... The smaller schools are also a bit cheaper, and the professors are more sensitive to the fact that non-traditional students have lives. I've had the good fortune of classes that started as late as 8:00PM. The bulk of the CS curriculum was offered after 5pm. The down-side, well, it's not as good an education; more superficial - you have to supplement it yourself - and with work and kids and such, it's hard.

    2. RPI is pushing real hard to be the premiere Distance Education University in the country. Large employers may be able to set up a conference room to allow tele-commuting to the Troy campus. I'm taking an experimental online class from home, via the net. This is a trend, and it will continue. Surf over to and see what you can find. Caveat, prestige co$t$. See if your employer might reimburse you via an educational assistance program.
  • 1) University tuitions are getting really crazy. Most grads I know spend years paying back student loans, and not everyone has a rich daddy to send them off to school. I've always been one for hard work, and earning an education, but it's just getting silly.

    Knowledge is free. Or should be, if the people who frequent /. practice what they preach. Just because I pay thousands of dollars for my degree doesn't mean that my _knowledge_ was harder earned than someone else's.

    Although people take more seriously something they pay money for, University tuitions are beginning to put education beyond the reach of many.

    2) For those of you whining about the script kiddies getting their fraudulent degrees, it already happens. I quite regularly get spam email claiming that all I have to do is pay a small fee and call an 800 number, and the degree of my choice will be mailed right to my door. Of course, they assure, this is ligitimate because it is based on "life experience." Yeah.

    There are plenty of legitimate University grads that don't deserve the degrees they get. There is already cheating and other devious means of getting ahead. But there are people who don't cheat that go to school too. Can we assume that honest people would also benefit from an online education?

    Sure there are definite pros to physically attending school. The whole social interaction and all that. I, for one, learn quite a bit from the web.
  • How about it Bill? Saylor isn't worth 1/2 of you!
  • I see a lot of comments about "college is more than a web page" and "what about hackers". Let's give these people a little credit--with $100 million you can do more than:

    rpm -i apache.rpm
    cat encyclopedia_brittanica &gt /home/httpd/html/index.html

    First of all, there's no reason you can't interact with other students at U of Web--after all, what are we doing right here? Second, a suspected hacker could be easily retested and regraded. And these solutions are just off the top of my head--I'm sure they've got people who are dedicated to the task of figuring this out.

    In other words, let's wait until they prove themselves boneheaded before shouting "I told you so".
  • This sounds a lot more like an online library than a "university" to me. In the article they suggest that professors would videotape their lectures in studios that the charity would set up, then they would presumably be available online for everyone. The article says his original thought on the matter was to address the question why someone in a remote location can't have access to a high quality education. As the announcement reads, it sounds like the goal of this is not to provide credentials to people, but instead access to knowledge.

    Someone above suggested that this would bring about a new paradigm in education and I believe they are only partially correct. The history of the world and the US is full of self-educated people (eg Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln). The problem is that as access to knowledge becomes more a privelege of the economic elite (checked the price of an academic journal or textbook lately?) it is becoming increasingly difficult to be self educated.

    I think Mr. Saylor's idea is a wonderful one. If such an online repository of knowledge becomes available I believe that people will begin to focus more on the capabilites of potential employees then their credentials. It will also decrease the barriers to learning that exist today.
  • I think a lot of these comments are U.S.-centric.

    In other countries, education is a different
    animal. "Hacking an education" may be an
    issue, but if you're dealing with a flawed
    educational system, it may be irrelevant.
    If anyone has read of Dr Feynman's experiences
    with Brazil in "Surely You're Joking, Mr.
    Feynman", you understand what I mean.

    I took a language course in Mexico once, and a
    requirement to start the course was to go to the
    copy service and have them make a copy of the
    text for the course. People in the U.S. take
    access to textbooks for granted I think.
    (of course, internet access can be taken for
    granted too...)

    Now, imagine that you're learning in a "less
    than optimal" environment. Maybe it's even a
    country that provides a free college education.
    Your teacher reads out of the book and assigns
    homework. You get home, but are confused when
    trying to do it. However, you pull up a lecture
    off the internet on the subject and one of the
    best professors in the field explains things to
    you while carefully skirting the cognitive
    stumbling blocks.

    What if college teachers themselves in other
    countries can learn their subject better online?
    I don't know, I think a lot of good can come
    of this.
  • If he would support the creation of open/free text books and instructional software that would be wonderful. I've been planning to start a project along those lines for some time now.

    I wonder if we can get a Slashdot interview with him?

  • It's unfortunate that you are posting as an AC, I'd be interested in continuing the conversation, please feel free to email me

    Tom M.
  • Ewing's wife is getting a PhD in Marxist theory. One way to return money to the community, I guess :-)
  • I'm a dartmouth student in the CS department here, and I can tell you first hand that not all Ivy schools are mediocre undergrad institutions. Dartmouth's main focus is, and always has been, undergrad educuation: graduate students here are an extreme minority, and not even present in all disciplines. Undergrad's regularly have chances for research with professors, and take classes from full professors (not just grad TA's), even starting as freshmen. It's even reflected in the name of the school: "Dartmouth College", not "Dartmouth University".
  • I feel like there's a bias sometimes on slashdot, towards a computer proficiency only useful in the computer industry. To that end, perhaps a completely-online university would have a place...

    However, the meaning of "university" has always been (in my mind) tied up with the idea of research, and professor-graduate student associations that teach people how to do research, how to be part of academia (in the best sense of the word). This is the thing that would be lacking in an online institution. Academic research is an exercise that must be conducted in person; learning to be a researcher can't happen when you only know your professor through email and "streaming video". Research is a culture that grows in the daily interactions of a student and a teacher... and when it does occur, it produces ideas that often motivate or create entire industries (see the effect of Computer Science research on the "Computer Industry" for proof).
  • i don't think that the purpose of a free, online university is to take the place of an accredited university. at least i hope not.

    that being said, though, i think the idea is a wonderful one. i take a lot of pride in my school. i know i went to a good one, and i know i busted my ass to get in and to pay for it.

    i also know that not everyone has those options.

    the Internet brought us unlimited knowledge. i see a free, online university as bringing some structure to that knowledge and acting as a resource for people who are not at university for some reason or another.

    can't afford school? working too hard and don't have the time? just not able to make the committment? fine! go online and read up on 13th century artwork! read about the finer points of freidrich hayek's work in political philosophy!

    provided that this doesn't take the place of an accredited university (and i don't think it would), i think it's a wonderful idea!

  • Of course, I'm a cynic to start. I won't say its unworkable, certainly, but I still see this sort of thing more as a supplement to education than a self-contained university experience.

    Reading the article helped allay one of my concerns - the lack of people on the other end. According to the article, he wants to hire lecturers and guest lecturers to be videotaped and then offer the video online. Of course, that's still no better than watching a lecture on TV, because there's no Q&A session.

    An online university would be great for the kinds of subjects that are taught via lecture and reading. I think it would start to fall apart in the discussion and tutoring areas. For something like this, I would want to see moderated chatroom "sections" for each lecture at the very least. It costs in terms of teacher-hours (or more likely TA-hours) and loses some of the flexibility of unscheduled learning, but most people learn better by interaction.

    I don't see the big expense for an online university being the web pages, the online books, the quizzes, or even the lecturers. To work - there need to people there. A live, thinking person has to answer questions, correct exams (multiple blind-stab-in-the-dark tests have only limited educational use, and correcting anything more sophisticated requires an actual brain), lead discussions, and so on.

    I did take part in some experiements with online learning back in the mid 80's (yes, that long ago). In the course I took (a soft science no less - it was Intro to Sociology) I was physically present three times - for orientation, the midterm, and the final. Interim quizzes were done by timed email. As far as it went, it was a good experience for me. One of the big problems was that I see continuing with the free online unversity is that people tended to blow off homework and deadlines because the class didn't feel "real". There was no peer pressure to perform. I would guess that the "free" aspect would aggravate that problem. The second most reported problem was that a lot of the other students in the experiment felt isolated by the remote learning. The second time they ran the experiement, they added a TA who was available for face-to-face at certain hours and that did seem to help.

    Books can provide static information, and TV can provide taped lectures -- the thing this university can provide that would be really new is remote interaction with actual people.
  • Yes it is true, online universities are a new concept. And like all new concepts, people initially have a difficult time seeing the merit of it.

    Even right now, universities struggle to give weight to the degrees they hand out. This is the reason for all the competition involved in getting high rankings in some national magazine. Online universities are no different in this regard.

    Of course online universities can't ignore the problems posed by being online. They will look at existing models such as sysadmin certification, where the tests are administered in the regular world, with pen, paper, and proctors, regardless of how the person studied.

  • Microsoft ate my homework

    This is always the perfect answer to anything that's late. Teacher's don't know what to do, and BOOM! you've got a free weekend to actually do it. They never even have to know I use Linux. So far though, this is the only good thing ("innovation") I've seen come out of any Microsoft OS/Office product.

    Chris Hagar

  • I think you have to link to file://c:/aux/aux
    Besides, you use Hotmail, that's worse than any version of Windows.

    Chris Hagar
  • Several colleges already offer an option to take virtual university courses. The benefit of this new "Online College" would be to tie it in strongly to other universities, transfer-credit-wise. Then one could take the hands on courses like Chemistry and Physics that require labs at the local University, while the bulk of the courses fro Comp Sci., English, etc. could be taken online. While it's not quite "free-as-air-and-water" it'd be a real boon for people like me who have already taken some courses and wish to have the convenience of online classes.

    On another note, this would be great for those less fortunate people who wish to get a college education but can't afford it or schedule it in because of many jos, etc. They could set up centers in local libraries for this sort of thing, with a cluster of inexpensive computers (Linux, anyone?) and a place to study. Then both the computers and the books would be covered.

  • I agree that a well educated populace is very important for a nation's wealth. The more skill there is, the more, and better, production will be. In the end it's these goods and services that count; you can't eat money. However, I think that a large disparity between incomes would still exist between well-educated citizens because wages are ultimately determined by consumers. Very famous movie stars, singers, and other entertainers would still make piles more than a McDonalds worker. Low-skill, low-paying jobs won't just go away if the average citizen's education is higher because need will still exist for nontechnical services. Someone will still need to "take your order" or scrub floors, or dig ditches. It's possible that some of these tasks could be relegated to machines, but in the forseeable future humans will still have to do them.

    Just remember that outside of the digital world:
    Utility is the basis of value.
    Scarcity is measure of value.
    Price is the evidence of value.


  • All I have to say is that when someone donates that kinda money, it must be a good feeling for him/her. But, I bet there are also other reasons, say maybe a tax writeoff? Just a thought. Either way, it is still a great thing for us, the general public...


    Crimson Networks []

  • In the UK for the last thirty years or thereabouts we have had a TV based university. (the Open University.) No employer thinks that it's students have a lesser degree because they have spent time away from the confines of a traditional campus. In fact because they generally manage to hold down a full time job and manage to spend 20 hours per week on university based work they are seen as more hard working and better prepared than the average student.
    check them out at
  • It's only a great thing for the public if the university gets beyond the beurocratic red tape and has a greater presence than just "under construction". The most probable out come of this is that the university will be "almost ready for students" while the $100 million gets spent on some lawyer "working out" how to get the university past all the "red tape".
    I think the money will disappear into some hole and not be seen again...... But also some one that is capable of getting this running might get the money and make this a precedent for all the traditional universities and start the new wave of learning that everyone is talking about, But I doubt it and i don't think any of us prospective students will see any of this $100 million.
  • I wonder if we could get him to do one....

    there'd be all sorts of interesting questions I'd be dying to ask him. Would it conduct research? What approach to intellectual property would it take?

    Electronic teaching is one of the biggest cans of worms you could ever imagine (I sat on a couple of university IT committees....)
  • It's a fabulous idea, but there is one issue I have. Many people (myself included) learn much better in a classroom than just reading the material for themselves. Wouldn't the online thing hurt those kind of students?

    What I am hoping to see in the long run is that the advent of online universities will help check the skyrocketing prices of tuition at standard universities. I think that online universites and standard universities can work together, not one replacing the other.

    ...isotropic - the same in all rainforests...
  • What has free internet scholarship to do with Poison Ivy ? BatMan University ? I want my Mr. Freeze degree ... ^_^
  • I've been tossing the idea around about going back to college for a BA in Philosophy. I too, think an online college will be acceptable for this type of degree.

    Are there alot of these online colleges? Are any other slashdotters enrolled in one? If you guys know of some, please post some links.
  • I like the idea of philanthropy targeted toward education. But I don't think college is the right place to send it.

    Wouldn't it be much more useful to donate this kind of money to our poorer public and private elementary and secondary schools? These schools have much more influence on the development of society as a whole than universities do. They also happen to be the institutions that need resources the most. Imagine what a new computer lab could do for some of these schools. Imagine up-to-date textbooks!

    There is an enormous wealth gap in this country. Education is the way to eradicate it. Lets focus on making high quality education available to everyone at all levels.


  • There is at least one: offers a complete online degree in a copuple of subjects.


  • The bottom line is that they don't. However, the nature of the education tends to preclude this. Imagine: if you have enough money to pay someone to logon to an online program and write a 200 word essay /every day/ -- what do you need a degree for? Since it's so interactive, just knowing the material is not enough. You have to follow with the conversation.


  • I've read many of the responses to this article and I think there is a big misunderstanding. Sure there are lots of online college classes. Sure there are some Universities and Chat offer full degree programs online. But what of quality? Has any of these programs evolved the learning/teaching process to meet the demands of a new meduim or simply copied existing ideas/techniques?

    What IVY Leage is supposed to mean is that there is a given level of quality both in the teaching and a suffieceintly high level of difficulty to gaurantee graduating students meet high standards. Most universities run their school just like a business. Selling classes online is a cheap revenue generator. Acccreditation is a joke and is pretty much worthless. It also means that potential employers know that when they hire a graduate they are getting what they pay for.

    The next question is what would someone have to do to create such an institution?

    • Be indepent from reliance on tuition fees for existance.
    • Have sufficient budget and backing to attract teachers who are motivational and creative.
    • Create a curriculum that is suited to the new medium. For instace, chemstry would be tough since much of chemistry learning is applying principles and theories to real lab experiments. Computer programming, philosophy, political science, and any other cerebral study would work fine.
    • Ditch 80 % of liberal arts curriculum. Programmers will spend the vast majority of their time learning programming , etc.. By the time they graduate in their field any potential employer will know that even the lowliest graduate far exceeds their peers with advanced degrees in the field from traditional universities.
    • The teaching format requires structured learning discipline. Real class schedules, required attendance, etc.
    • Verification of attendance and identity via two way video with sound. Perhaps voice or retina identification. The program will be free but the student must have access to a computer with the correct specs and a high speed connection. Students would bee free from tuition and book expenses but will need to meet this requirement by either buying the equipment or borrowing it.
  • Not everyone that goes to college is fresh out of high school... I'm almost thirty years old and my "life skills" are fine, thanks.

    But with a 2 year old son and a job, an online university like this would be perfect for me.

  • 1) Congrats for being first post and posting something useful.

    2) The only thing I can say is wait for Online University v3.0. Hopefully by then the bugs will be worked out. ;)

    Bad Mojo
  • I think that he meant "What about the rest of the billionaires, why aren't they donating any money to education?"

    Not, "What about the rest of *THIS* guy's money?"

  • Um. I think that the quote was intended as, "Okay, that's one billionaire putting his money to good use. What about the rest [of the billionaires]?"
  • As someone who recently joined the educational world, I have been thinking a lot about the "threat" of online education.

    If you want to survive in business, you must first understand what business you are in. For example, Ford is in the business of "individual transportation" NOT of making cars, since, if someone made a new machine that could transport people faster and cheaper than a car, then Ford would be out of business.

    Universities are in the business of certification, NOT education. The primary goal of a University is to certify that all its graduate have learned a certain amount of stuff. A secondary goal is to help those students that need assistance in learning.

    An MIT degree means something because we know MIT only gives degrees to those that have satisfied the many requirements.

    Standarized tests can also be used to do some certification but they are (by neccessity) nowhere as effective predictors as, say, an MIT education.

    So, these online universities are a great idea but in the end their product is completely worthless unless they find some way to keep tabs on the students' progress. For example, by giving them tests (which require grading), projects (which require assistance), interactions (which requires experts), etc. At which point you end up with a traditional university.

    So, Im all for these free online universities! I would love to give my students a URL which has movies, text, and other fun stuff that deals with the class Im teaching. Still, I will need to give them tests/projects to make sure they have learned something and did not spend all their time reading slashdot. I will also need to be there for them when they have trouble understanding the material.

    The way I see it, these online Universities are nothing more than a fancy (and, thankfully, free) textbook.

    Also, the idea that famous profs will teach classes for free is silly. Sure, profs will give a lecture for free, a lecture that talks about the research they are doing, and points out how great their results are. But, to give a whole semester-long unbiased class on some topic, that, my friends, is a whole other story (and a lot of work).
  • An online university may be worth little to you, but to people who can study off hours, and don't have to pay exorbitant fees to go to school, an online university will be a godsend.

    Simply being able to get an education without costing the school anything except bandwidth and testing time means that the schools costs would be much lower, going almost entirely to content creation, and where content creation means more classes it is a good thing.

    One advantage of an online university is that you get the best education their professors can give you. Teaching assistants are for filling in, because a flesh and blood professor can only see so many students in a day, and can only give so many lectures. Once a professor wrote down and edited their lecture, everyone could read it, and learn the same from it, without the prof having a bad day, or a TA without a deep understanding of the subject filling in.

    To me, the importance of having a person hand me a degree, which I wear a funny robe, is much less than the importance of being able to upgrade my skills at a real university, even while working at a regular job.
  • Notice that he said Ivy League education, not Ivy League college experience.

    That means this e-college will have professors that care more about research than their classes, have grading curves that are lax enough to keep the athletes and the alumni's kids from failing, and TAs (who will suck) that will be teaching most of the classes.

    [TA] So.. umm.. umm.. the equation.. umm..
    [Student214] Speak louder!
    *TA is too shy and hides in corner
    [Student788] Can't hear you!
    [Student112] Dude, this university sucks ass!

  • I've used some of the "distance learning" techniques while I was in school (primarily as a way to skip class). Mainly lectures on video tape and in RealAudio over the net. And you know, it wasn't really very useful. A boring lecture is three times as boring when you're experiencing it that way. The only advantage is you can pause and replay things, and you can make fun of the lecturer (a la MST3K).

    But as for random access, that technology has already existed for thousands of years, in *books*. Books are very useful, and they are a lot cheaper than lectures. And in most cases, they're a heck of a lot more informative. I think of lectures as a way to make things more entertaining in order to hold my attention. But if I'm into something, I'd rather have a dozen books on it than listen to someone run their mouth for an hour or two.

    Also, having attended a few company sponsored training classes in the "real world", I have to say that lectures like this are a scam. I can learn more from a book in one morning than what it takes three days to cover in a class setting.

    I think any highly motivated person would be better served having access to electronic textbooks than to an electronic "university". And the benefit of free, electronic textbooks, is that they can be integerated in the curiculum of real cash-poor institutions. They can also be more easily translated, and easily updated.

    Is anyone aware of any organized efforts to create textbooks of this nature? Something kind of like the Linux Documentation Project, but less specific for scientific and academic subjects.
  • "but should he really be expected to donate more?"

    ITYM "thanks! where do I sign up?!". If you'd read the article then you'd see that he views the $100M as "a deposit" - so (a) there's more on the way anyway and (b) there are probably more billionaires out there than this one guy. Now that could be fun...

    Interesting reporting, putting this chap over Bill's similar gesture...
  • Very cool. I hadn't thought of the "forcing you to learn" aspect. This was something that irritated the hell out of me in undergrad., students only consuming what they were fed and not thinking. They might as well save themselves some years and get a tech. degree.

    You got me thinking about using something like this to continue education. I did my college years; I'm not interested in repeating them.

  • The article states that he is planning on taping new lecture series, why not purchase the rights to some of the quality previously taped lecture series out there? There are some of very high quality, and he'd save a year of time immediately off the bat...

  • A few things I skipped..

    "familiarity with the scientific method" - I would suggest doing replication studies. Each student would be required to do two. This would require some presorting of a lot of scientific literature- perhaps professors from the various fields could reccommend studies that should be replicated, and put an associated difficulty rating with them. The rep. study would need to be thuroughly researched and planned out (similarly to a Research Methods class....), and then reviewed by an expert. This will be costly in terms of expert time (six hours per student... likely more). Experimental design/planning software could greatly improve the effectiveness of the experimental design, and significantly reduce the burden on the expert.

  • I've given the creation of online and open Universitys (and other educational facilities...) a significant amount of thought. Here are some suggestions...

    These course should be for memorization/lecture intensive courses where direct classroom experience is of limited value. Many of the prerequisite 100/200 level course are of this sort.

    There should be a legal requirement for all schools/colleges to accept these as course equivalents (Each school can base it's cut off level on comparitive scores for typical students of that school, but if the cut off is met, credit transfer is cumpulsory for equivalent courses...)

    For lab work - a significant (2/3? 3/4?) amount of lab time for 300 and lower Physics, Chemistry, and Biology is a waste. The reason- few students prepare for the lab, their understanding of the principles behind the experiment are often dismal, the experiments are often trivial in nature and execution, there is a great deal of duplication of effort/course material for each lab taken.

    Introductory (and often higher level) lab courses often have as primary purposes- familiarity with the scientific method, and familiarity with lab equipment. For the familiarity with lab equipment, I would suggest a certification process with local labs. With emulation software to gain familiarity with the apparatus ahead of time. Those who have completed the required lecture material, and scored a prerequisite score on a familiarity exam could sign up to come in and be tested on the equipment (either individually or as a group).

    For exams - there are already computer based testing facilities located around the world. Likely a 'cost only' solution could be negotiated with these facilitys, this would reduce the likely hood of cheating.

    All multiple choice based exams should be free, but material requiring essays etc., should have a nominal fee associated with them. This should only be for creative essays, - subject matter/content essays can be accurately and successfully graded with software.

    Classes that are oral intensive can be done by having central meeting places that travel is required to for the occassional presentation.
    Much of the discussion and critique can be done by a virtual audience (via webcasting the presentation, and portion of the future presenters could be signed up to be a live audience... plus interested outsiders can attend the lectures etc...)

    I have more to say on the logistics of distributed grading of essays and many other topic, but I'll leave that for another post.

  • I'm all for new ways for a busy geek to pick up an extra degree, but...

    Is the college level where more money needs to be spent to produce Computer Science majors?

    Now, I don't have the statistics myself, but every few months, one of the industry or regular news magazines has one of those "doom and gloom" stories about how enrollment in CompSci programs is going DOWN (more work for the rest of us tho). The existing programs can turn out some EXCELLENT graduates.... if they can attract the students.

    But WHY can't they get students?

    *I* think that question could be answered, at least in part, by looking at the current high school culture that encourages bit-brained jocks, and casts geeks as psychotic killers who must be kept down.

    Perhaps the money could be better spent by endowing a series of private magnet schools at the high school level, and perhaps even at the middle school level as well. Disavow completely the failed education of the public schools and establish a strong pre-CompSci curriculum in these schools, and scholarships for intelligent students willing to excell, as opposed to allowing geeks to be tormented by the jocks, as is the norm in public schools.

    Not long ago /. had a story about a good example of such a school, the Beacon School, IIRC. Granted that was the rare gem of a public school, but it could be a good paradigm for the type of schools I'm proposing. I know that when *I* become a billioniare, one of the charitable things I'd like to do is establish a private high school that *I* would have LIKED to attend.

    Get enough geek bilioniares together, and you could establish a series of these magnet schools across the country. Even better, you could locate them near universities with whom you could establish dual-enrollment programs. And the better the computer science college, the better the location. Put one of these magnet schools in Palo Alto near Stanford, in Atlanta near GaTech, in Boston near MIT, Pasedena near CalTech, etc.

    Offer dual enrollment classes so you can get the busywork classes out of the way quickly. When your HS english class gives both HS and college english credit, that leaves more time for useful computer classes on college. The same applies for history, economics, (insert generic required-by-the-state bore of a class here), etc.

    And by locating these magnet schools near the appropiate universities, you also locate them near a fairly good bit of the industry. Wouldn't you perfer your HS age kids to work their summers as interns at Hewlett Packard, rather than flipping burgers at McDonalds? I sure would.

    Get 'em young, I say. Find the intelligent kids who would be worthwhile, productive citizens, and give them the chance to get out of the jocks-and-cheerleaders uber alles high school culture as early as you can. Nurture their talents, do not suppress them. I bet that with a nurturing pre-college environment, more people would major in college CompSci programs. And just imagine the quality of the geeks that would be produced by college graduation if you could get 'em at 6th grade!!!

  • Well, they've already got one step in the right direction towards simulating the 'Ivy League' experience. At an online university, there is no chance in hell that you'll ever see your profesor outside of class or get any advice on what classes to take - just like at Fair Harvard.

    Student: Hi proffesor smith!
    Prof: Do I know you?
    Student: you're my academic advisor.
    Prof: really?
    Student: it's not important. Just sign this form and let me go home.
    Prof: works for me.
  • This part actually makes me feel better:

    Saylor himself said: "Done right, this will impact the lives of millions of people forever. Done wrong, it's just noise in a can." Whether it will be done right remains to be seen: As yet, there is no structure, no staff, no specific curriculum, no estimate of the final cost.

    Once they said that it was going to be centered around video footage of "geniuses and leaders," I was skeptical. We're not at broadband just yet. Hopefully they'll put some effort into plain ol' text and/or ebooks, too. Seems like an important part of an online education would be following your own pace, not just watching videotaped lectures.

  • Please forgive me for using the word, but this could be part of a new education paradigm. Think about it: As someone was saying above, how could anyone hope to grade all the million or so essays that would be generated by students attending for free?

    Instead, the parts of the class that are to be evaluated would have to be automated. Like multiple choice tests. Kinda skanky, but seems like a necessity. Also, the definition of "cheating" would probably have to change; since it's free, anyone who got "kicked out" for cheating could just come back under another nick. Anyone who stays would have to stay because they care, period. Encourage everything currently considered cheating: collaborative work (via instant messengers, internet phone, IRC, whatever), use of reference materials, everything. This is good real life training anyway: you always collaborate with people to get things done.

    Also, it seems like they could learn alot from the slashdot moderation system. Only instead of moderators, you'd have online T.A.'s. T.A. "points" would have to be awarded on a different basis, though. Maybe you could take a little certification course (also free?) to help with certain online classes. Because individual feedback is also a vital part of education, and you can't have one prof do that for a million people! So distribute the work over 1000 T.A.s. Is this cheating too, or helping oneself and others to understand better?

  • There's also WAY more school here that you can get on a physical campus in fixed boring classes with your physical body. With something like this, it might be possible to test the limits of the humand mind by opening up a great
    deal of classes and timeshare between what interests the fancy at the moment. The colleges I remember like to control information and punish those who don't abide strictly by thier program.

    I think that my "human limits" have already been sufficiently tested thank you very much. The problem you have is you really haven't hit the wall yet. Just keep taking classes and eventually you will find one that you simply can't handle at all. Also colleges have what are unaffectionally called "weed out" classes. Essentially it keeps things nice and elite to prevent outsiders leaking their precious information or "corrupting" their dicipline.
  • it does _not_ need to be assessed to be of any value
    a centralized repository of information is worthwhile in its own right
    personally, i think it would be worse if a grading system were introduced

    If it's goal is to act as a replacement for an ivy league college it needs to be accessed.

    Yes you are correct if all you judge something on is what it can do this thing is of worth by creating good information however that in and of itself does nothing to further the stated aim the article implies.
  • OK... Looks like this is the first post. Yippee! Hows this going to work then? For this to be of any value peoples work will have to be assessed. Imagine hanving to mark 100 million (a figure from the text) essays on "The rise and
    fall of Socialism" or a stats paper. Hackers could have a ball bumping up their grades too. Have I got the wrong impression? I think for a University to be any use to anyone then assessment of peoples work will be essential.

    On a related note what will the degree be worth to an employeer coming from the net? I mean it's all well an good getting a Phd from such a university however if people think it came from a cereal box you aren't going to be able to use it effectively.
  • Wouldn't an online univeristy be quite inexpensive? Instead of having departments you would have 1 professor in each area. The "classes" would just be a set of web pages, maybe even tests and the like. I guess the "professors" would have to stick around to update the pages, but its not like they have to show up in a room and talk for an hour...

  • I think another problem with giving the money to public schools instead of creating a free college is that people can attend public school for free. This is education that even the poorest are garunteed of getting. Granted, it might not be as good as say a private school in prep ville, but it's better than nothing. However, once the poorer people leave high school, they have nowhere else to go. I atleast, do not know of any free colleges. Therefore, these people have no hope of higher education. Now with a computer and an internet connection, they can get that, and hopefully stand a chance against those who are lucky enough to be able to afford the traditional methods of getting this level of information.

  • > I think what he was saying was that the social
    > interaction of attending a real university would
    > be missing.

    Well since man is a social animal...I doubt this
    would mean sticking yourself in a room and staring
    at a web page for 4 years.

    What about the people who ar ealready around you?
    Does one have to be surrounded by students to
    reap the full benefits of study?

    Social interaction takes place every day. Its
    not just in schools.
  • > Encourage everything currently considered
    > cheating: collaborative work (via instant
    > messengers, internet phone, IRC, whatever), use
    > of reference materials, everything. This is
    > good real life training anyway: you always
    > collaborate with people to get things done.

    I have to agree here. Definitly.

    I would rather work with someone who is willing
    to admit that they don't know everything and look
    up or ask about what they don't know, then someone
    who feels the need to just know everything.

    Real work is like that. If you don't
    ask. People collaberate. In fact....discussing
    a problem with someone else is a great way to
    learn more.

    As for reference Einsein said...
    "Never memorize anything that you can look up".

    Actually...I have had tests even in high school
    where we were encouraged to bring our notes to
    the test. Its more important that we know how to
    work through a problem then we know formulas by

    Perhaps a University Sanctioned chat line where
    people could IM etc...and it could be reviewed
    by a TA or equiv. Just to make sure people were
    discussing problems and not just saying : 1a 2b

  • > In order to have a decent crack at the higher
    > education whip, a person would have to:

    > Give up their job, or significantly reduce the
    > number of hours they work,

    So noone has ever worked a full time job to
    put themselves through school? Somehow I doubt

    Hell I have no degree...because I work at a
    University I can take 2 free courses per semester.
    I could get a 8 years or so.

    It may take longer...but work and education
    do not have to be mutually exlusive.

    > In this case, potentially have to invest in
    > computer hardware

    One could argue that to get into a real university
    you have to put in the inital investment of 4
    years in high school (not sister
    spent 1.5 years in HS...left and got her GED,
    then went into colledge 2 years early)

    Yea...its an inital investemtn that has to be made
    to be able to do it...however...given the cost
    of normal universities...this is a very low
    enty investment. Besides...would you really go off
    to a real university without a computer these
    days? Would you want to be subject to working on
    papers whenever a PC is free in the lab or when
    the computer labs are open?

    Seriously...I was a school for a year a few years
    back (school life wasn't for me...I learn better
    off on my own doing things then in classrooms)
    and I knew 1 person without a computer of his
  • I don't think the intent is to grade and sort out students. The format seems more colloquim style, like a public lecture series, similar to the free Engelbart web cast offered by Stanford sometime ago. I think this will work very well as a supplement for mature and interested students, but I don't it will replace the undergraduate or graduate experience where interaction is crucial.
  • While I understand you're initial concerns, I think some of them are answered. For example, some of the schools I've investigated for getting a Masters in CS, like the University of Illinois [], aren't simply offering "A web page". They're offering things like streaming video and pdf class notes which are synchronized with the video all from the comfort of your home. You can fit it in with a busy schedule because it's at your convenience; furthermore, I like the idea of streaming can pause your professor, re-listen to a section, and go on! Questions are submitted by e-mail, or on-line chats, or newgroup type forums. Granted for some courses with heavy lab requirements (Chemistry, Physics) you may still need to physically attend school, but if we ever get some really good experiment simulation software, that may be able to be done from home too. Your comment about life skills is also interesting. Don't you believe that these "life skills" are changing to more computer-oriented tasks? Perhaps becoming a little more of a self-learner by using the web and it's resources, people may develop better life skills for the world that's currently evolving.
  • by ^ ( 104273 )
    Getting an "Ivy-League" quality education online is impossible.

    A single thing separates schools from the Ivy League and others of their quality (such as Stanford, Berkeley, Reed, or MIT): the students that attend them. Any university administrator worth their salt will tell you the reason a community college can never give you the same education an univerisity can, simply because there is no society of students that have an open discourse as an integral part of their life.

    When you fork over $30K a year to attend Harvard or Princeton, you're not really paying for the professors; research credentials and significance in an academic field have nothing to do with how well someone can teach. You're paying for your fellow students. You could assemble the best professors from every school in the nation, Ivy League included, create an "online university" with them, and a student would not emerge as educated as one who went to Brown.

  • It's an interesting question, but I think the answer has more to do with what kind of students they plan on attracting. Cheating is, IMHO, not a major concern at many good universities because the students are simply relied upon not to do it. At Rice, for instance, the overwhelming majority of my exams were take-home, and the few that weren't were seldom proctored in any way; the so-called "Honor Code" was a pretty big deal there, and I don't know many people who would've considered breaking it. (Ours was basically just a statement you wrote on each exam, "I have neither given nor received any aid on this exam.") And what's more, I really don't think this was because of the possible penalties if you were somehow proven to have cheated (which were pretty severe) -- more compelling than that, I think, was the knowledge that we had so many liberties with our exams/homeworks/whatever, and that breaking the Code endangered those liberties.

    So I don't know. Within a certain number and class of students, I don't think cheating is a big enough concern to justify elaborate mechanisms to prevent it. To be fair, I am currently a graduate student at another, larger university (which shall remain nameless) -- and here, the custom is to monitor like a hawk whenever we give exams, require students to record their seat numbers, use multiple versions of exams, etc. This is a little disturbing to me, but the students seem to justify the approach -- I've caught more than one blatantly copying off another student, for instance. Where will this online university fall between these schemes? I dunno -- but I feel fairly certain that if you only impose mechanisms to detect/prevent cheating, without convincing students that it's really in their best interests not to cheat, someone will eventually figure out a way to circumvent those mechanisms.

  • I have heard from most of my friends in the Ivy League that those schools tend to be excellent grad schools, but mediocre undergrad schools. For that matter, compare their cs and engineering departments to MIT, Cal Tech, Purdue, CMU or Georgia Tech. They might be great at teaching philosophy, political 'science' or literature, but those aren't fields which lend themselves to quantitative analysis of how many innovations and innovators they produce (just a survey of 'reputation' isn't enough-- in these fields, where you are from is most of your reputation anyway!).

    I think it is important, though, to remember that distance learning is great up to a point. Really, learning requires many things: supervised lab time, team projects, one on one instruction, etc. Distance learning is appropriate as a substitute for lectures, but there is much more to a college education than that. A school which uses distance learning resources (videotapes, internet texts, interactive homework/study aids, etc) to enhance education is great. One which tries to fit everything into a particular set of technologies which do not lend themselves to that kind of implementation is doomed to failure.

  • I agree with you that it will not fulfill the full role of a bricks and mortar university. However it can fulfill a different purpose

    In the UK we have the Open University, which is technically the biggest in the country in terms of numbers and may well be one of the biggest in the world.

    The university is set up for home learning, with TV programmes, lecture papers and other resources, with 1 or 2 residential weekends and weeks a year.

    The main take up of this are people who are working, people abouve the average university age and those just interested in learning rather than other aspects of university life. Many have too busy lives to give up.

    It is almost purely a teaching institution and fulfills this better than most.

    It does however cost a lot and isn't embracing 'e-learning' as much as it could.

    I think this new service will appeal to professionals, and those who (especially in the states) can't afford to take out loans to go to university, but still want to better themselves and learn.

    Also people like single mothers who could increase their skills base, people could learn a whole new area of knowledge and not have to give up their income. In other words, if you focus awaw from the trypical college age and crowd it could offer another level of educational accessability to people.

  • ..... it seems like the biggest difference between this and any other education comes down to the $$. it sounds like a real 'opening of doors' for people like me who had to mortgage their soul to go to the university of their choice......and esp. for all those people who from very early on were discouraged from even forming the goal of going to college because the amount of $$ it would cost their families was beyond comprehension.

    ..... and with respect to shoddy degree holders 'flooding the market': i firmly believe that your education is what you make it. you could go to a local state/community college, work your ass off and emerge a really well-educated person. by the same token, you could go to a prestigious university, waste all your time there, and emerge unfit for society, much less the job market.

    a diploma is a piece of paper, no matter what institution's name is written on it. the real value is *in* the person who 'earned' the diploma. now, on entering the job market, that fact should become blatantly clear. if joe schmoe from Online U made his degree worth something, he'll probably do well in the real world....more power to him. if his degree really is just a con job, he'll ultimately fail, or get fired, or be 'found out' in some way.........

    ....or maybe we (society) will go on as we mostly have.......perfectly satisfied with mediocrity. in which case, mediocre Online U grad, mediocre Prestigious U grad.......what's the difference?

    - sonic
  • It's accurate. The numbers are available.

    Sure, if we work by your assumption that the south is limited to rural alabama.

  • There are stringent guidelines for educational goals that must be achieved at each stage in elementary education, which inherently reduces the amount of experiementation you can do to the model at that level.

    University education is much more wide open - if you want to try something off-the-wall like a completely online university, this is the level to do it at.

  • What do these places also have? The worst educational system in the developed world, bar none.

    First of all, thats horseshit, but secondly, any comparative economic inequity you may perceive in the south (which once again is largely horseshit), is due to larger historical trends than any perceived adherence to privatization.

  • As Cooper Union [], now celebrating 140 years of of tuition free education, was mentioned in the original article, I thought a bit about Peter Cooper []'s methods might be on topic:

    Cooper gave his money away without tax breaks and
    without leaving it to his family. His family fully supported him in this, believing as he did, which is also remarkable by modern standards. His example directly nudged Andrew Carnegie, George Peabody, Matthew Vassar, Ezra Cornell and many others into their famous philanthropies. Cooper was the first wealthy industrialist of the 19th century to equate the acquisition of wealth with social responsibility. It is a tragedy that history seems to have largely forgotten this pivotal figure of the 19th century.

    Sound investments with long term payout (and loyal alumni) seem to be the key to providing the long term funding that Gone Jackal frets about. Cooper Union's wise trustees allowed the Chrysler Building [] to be built on their land. The site brings in a tidy sum [].
    [... Jerry] Speyer, president of Tishman Speyer Properties, acquired an extended leasehold on the land under the Chrysler Building from Cooper Union.[...]A source close to the deal puts the value of the lease at nearly
    $13 million, plus percentage closed.

    Of course, a small fixed number of student slots, and a merit based admissions policy seem to allow Cooper Union continue to function...
  • by aheitner ( 3273 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @05:15AM (#1201756)
    but I'll just put it here.

    There's an article [] in the Washington Post [] about Marc Ewing (of RedHat fame), his wife, and the billion dollars they're now challenged with giving away.

    It's a very interesting read in any case, but especially because of the financial success so many in the Free software community have been enjoying.
  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @06:17AM (#1201757) Homepage
    The only cheat-proof parts of regular university courses are the tests, everything else, with the exception of lab classes, is done outside of class.

    A professor teaching a small class has a better chance of catching a plagarized essay by noting a similarity between two papers, but as long as the essays are all unique, how are they to tell what work the students did on their own?

    And tests could be handled by hiring an independant agency to administer the tests somewhere local to the student. This wouldn't be free, but even with paying an examiner to watch a bunch of students, it's far cheaper than having to have a "bricks and mortar" school that everyone must attend. This isn't even much less secure, because most university tests I've seen have been administered by TAs, not the professor.

    I think this could be almost, if not as secure, as the measures taken by a physical university, without costing much.
  • by Elyas ( 59360 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @06:48AM (#1201758)
    Most of you are probably still in college, so don't have the perspective to see it. Right now you want a piece of paper so you can get your job so you can succeed. However, that probably means that you don't have the time in school to play around with delving into a certain field of history or philosophy, maybe even because of the risk that it would bring your GPA down. 5 years from now, when you decide you really wish you knew something about a certain subject, you can log onto this Online University, and broaden your mind. Maybe you won't get anywhere with the piece of paper, maybe you won't even get a piece of paper, but you will be a better, more rounded person, and that is worth a lot more
  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @07:07AM (#1201759)
    You beat me to one of the issues: books. He referred to Andrew Carnegie and libraries in the original article. A university is going to need textbooks for classes and a library. While it is all well and good to say that lecturers will do it for recognition and posterity, there is no way to stock a library with an up-to-date, complete collection of relevant material for free. Some items can be obtained that way. An online university could mirror Project Gutenberg []. I also heard yesterday that the Oxford English Dictionary is going online and that they are looking for institutions (such as libraries) to subscribe and then provide access to communities. He could make them an offer to pay to put them online for everyone.

    Then there is the issue of up-to-date technical references and textbooks. There are going to be people willing to write material for free for a good cause. But making it complete, getting it reviewed for technical accuracy and keeping it up-to-date are a different issue. A good start might be to seek out good material that is already on the net on various subjects and offer the authors a permanent, stable home for it. That alone, with a really good index and search engine could be a fantastic asset.

    Another idea that might attract some good free material would be to offer a service like Source Forge [] to people interested in creating free content. Give them free web space, backups, CVS trees, mailing lists, etc. for the project. Host mirrors for some of the open text formatting tools: (La)TeX [], texinfo [], DocBook [], etc. and encourage authors to use one of them and link to the mirror so that users can download the software they need easily.

    And, I second the motion to interview him. Maybe we can help him set the initial direction on some of this by asking some good questions. Whether his free online university succeeds or fails in the end, it is worth the effort. It will help answer the questions about what an online school can offer and what it needs to do to offer it.
  • by riggwelter ( 84180 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @05:14AM (#1201760) Homepage Journal
    ...a free lunch/degree

    Getting a degree requires that a person commit a lot of their time to it. Sure, the actual university fees may be free, but the actual cost to a person is a lot more than that.

    In order to have a decent crack at the higher education whip, a person would have to:
    • Give up their job, or significantly reduce the number of hours they work, either way reduce their income
    • In this case, potentially have to invest in computer hardware & software (OK, not neccesarily software - hooray for Linux), more cost. Attending a traditionbal university does not include this cost, and you physically attend lectures etc, and computer labs are often provided for essay writing purposes.

    The real route to free university education is for government to pay course fees, and provide a grant system, such as the one that's just about be clubbed to death in the UK. Yes, it means an increase in taxation in the short run, but once a generation of well educated graduates are unleashed on the nation, the increase in earnings that their degrees will bring will result in more tax going to the treasury.

    Yes, I know this is a slightly simplistic look at it, but sometimes you have to look at things simply to understand rather complex issues.

  • Think about it people. Do we really want an Online University? Do we want a bunch of script kiddies running around with their hacked degrees, flooding the job market based on false credentials? Essentially, that's what this cound entail.

    In all reality, however, It's most probable that little will come of this. A university that is available entirely online is of little worth. Most colleges across the nation are starting online classes as we speak, so they fill the void already that an online university could hope for. I don't know about you, but I'll be happy with my paper degree, handed to me by a living dean, and the knowledge that I gained from real professors (and maybe a Teaching Assistant here and there). We don't need to focus on building new universities. Just make the ones that are already there better!

    Brad Johnson
    --We are the Music Makers, and we
    are the Dreamers of Dreams

  • by spiralx ( 97066 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @06:26AM (#1201762)

    I think that people who believe in learning social interaction as a priority at college (opposed to the actual studies) are, by and large, Liberal Arts majors if you ask me. (Not intended as a troll, just an opinion).

    Okay, as someone you finished their degree in Theoretical Physics a couple of years ago I'll reply :) I don't think anyone here really thinks the most important thing about college is learning social interaction, of course the primary object is to learn your subject.

    But the point is that there are a lot of other aspects of college which are important to the rest of your life. Learning to meet and get on with new people, how to talk to people confidently and act in groups, how to work as part of a team in projects, how to live life on your own and a million other little things which prepare people for the rest of their life. The entire college experiance contributes to these things, yes even "snorting beers and shots of whiskey" as you say. Granted you can learn all these things by staying at home and doing a remote course, but the impetus from being in a totally new place and situation is lost, and people won't gain all these new skills, making it harder for them when they finally leave home and get a job.

  • by rambone ( 135825 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @05:29AM (#1201763)
    A university that is available entirely online is of little worth.

    How so?

    Most colleges across the nation are starting online classes as we speak, so they fill the void already that an online university could hope for

    Currently schools are basically offering an online component to their traditional offerings, but no one has really stepped up to do online education as an end-to-end process. don't know about you, but I'll be happy with my paper degree, handed to me by a living dean

    Why would an online university be any different? Sorry, you come off as just another luddite.

  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @07:09AM (#1201764) Homepage
    There are two very different issues to consider here: The education is entirely online, and entirely free... Coupled together, these two will present some unique problems as well, but let's start step by step.

    Online education is full of problems. A certain level of interaction between the instructor and the student is required for teaching. Note, 'teaching' and not 'learning'. Most of us here are self-taught to a good extent, and much of our learning has been online - but not in a structured manner.

    A teacher needs the visual feedback of eye contact and voice in order to know if a student 'gets it' or not. Online tends to strip that away, just as it strips away obvious sarcasm in email. Some of the most valuable things I've learned at the big U, were tangential "Oh BTW" things that were not part of the program. That spontaneity and pesonification of the material is crucial to the experience of 'being taught'.

    Online collaborative technologies are not yet ready. We're limited in bandwidth, standards, and understanding. It's very hard to deliver an audio lecture, with gif slides, to people with MODEMS. Collaborative tools are emerging, but half the time drop dead at a firewall. Downloadable lesson packages might as well be shipped on CD, and the problem reduces to non-collaborative self-study...

    I'm currently taking an online graduate level course, and I'm finding it very frustrating. The specialized software required for the course is Win32-biased, and has required me to compromise an otherwise stable WinNT system to accomodate it. MS has it's hooks so deeply in this stuff that it's damn near impossible to do without a dedicated computer. Overcoming the technical challenges of the experiment is so time consuming for both the teachers and the students, that the content is almost an afterthought. Maybe this is a job for a dedicated internet appliance? It's clear that a standard framework for online learning is needed. But before one can be defined and implemented, a lot of experimentation (like my course and this proposed online university maybe) is needed to see what's actually still missiong.

    There is a certain need for human contact when teaching/learning. Groups of students can collaborate online in working on a project, but presenting information in an interactive way is still far off. Teaching online, synchronously, is currently analogous to herding cats. The tools are not there. The mindset is not there. The whole concept of 'teaching' will have to be revised, because todays teachers are still trying to lecture - to a webcam...

    The idea of academic integrity is unenforcable online. When I was an undergrad, we were carded when taking a final exam. We literally had to show a school ID, or a driver's license, to be let into the exam hall. Much like when taking the SAT. Online, your buddy - the office guru - can take the test for you, and you get the certificate/diploma. The entire office can be consulted, or books, or friends via email... Forget timed exams.... "Sorry. BSOD! What are you gonna do? Fail me? Microsoft ate my homework!"

    Enough about that... On to free education:
    The fact that anyone CAN get the education will mean that the degree will be worthless. This may be a very Good Thing, since if anyone can now get a piece of paper claiming competency, then they will have to PROVE it. Good Thing indeed. I just wish there was a way for all those Weekend MBA grads that dictate technical decisions to prove their ability to do something other than run Excel.

    Free education is great, and the online distribution of it is the cheapest way to keep it free. Giving people the opportunity to learn, online, is wonderful, and beneficial to all. People with the desire to learn, and ANY available time (not 9 to 5 anymore) can improve their lot in life, and the lazy scumm can't just BUY a career. Merit and knowledge will become the metric of an educated person, not the name on the seal on the parchment.

    But here's the rub. Free online education - good idea; synchronous teacher-students interaction - not there yet. Free online education is nothing more than another portal in this context. It's online self-study, via a place calling itself a 'college' or 'university' which is just an organized set of links to self-paced, self-study materials. I don't see this as much different than C++ in 21 Days.

    The Institution of Education is a good thing as well. Creating an environment where more than facts are taught, but modes of thinking are created, is needed. A VR_U will have to resolve the technical problems of online collaborative teaching, and create the experience of learning, where it's not just about facts. Otherwise, we're already there, except a bit more distributed.
  • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @05:13AM (#1201765) Homepage Journal
    Anyone know how they plan to handle cheating on online universities?
    A major part of the reputation most ivy league school is their strong honor code policies as well as massive anti-cheating stance. How can an online university promise to be as hard on cheating as M.I.T. or Harvard when it conceivably is so easy to cheat?

    This is not a troll but a genuine question...I really am interested about how they plan to guarantee this, after all I've seen a certain degree of cheating in current college environments and the idea of taking all of one's test online seems to give such tests less legitimacy than does taken in class with exam supervisors watching over students like hawks.
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @05:49AM (#1201766) Homepage
    I'm currently working on my BA in Religious Studies (fully accredited) online. This is through a bricks & mortar univ. who have decided to establish an online program. ( [])

    Anyway, one thing I have found is that online education, at least the way CNU does it, totally shifts the responsibility of education from the teacher to the student. That is, it is not their responsibility to teach me, it is my responsibility to learn. If I don't understand, I need to go to the professor -- because he will not, can not, come to me.

    In essence, it is a process of discovery whereby I explore original writings in various subjects, and then discuss them (via a webboard thingy) with my classmates, then the professor grades based on how well I seem to have gotten it.

    I'm sure it works different for non-phil & religious studies classes -- but for these subjects, that's how they do it. All in all, it seems to work pretty well, at least if you're motivated. It forces students to learnd & think about the actual material, instead of this "what's going to be on the test" idiocy. OTOH, it's quite a bit more time consuming than a traditional class, at least for me.

    To me, this sounds like a great idea. Guys, like it or not, there are people who can't afford to go to college and are unwilling to mortgage the rest of their lives for a mediocre education. If this can be made to work, it will be a tremendous opportunity for people who know how to learn on their own. Can anyone say: geeks?


  • by leko ( 69933 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2000 @05:10AM (#1201767)
    Any Ivy league education? I havn't read the article, but from that alone I have a problem. Now, lets just say a good education, because who cares about whether or not its actually Ivy, and IMHO, the coolest schools are not.

    Now, as I'm sure a huge chunk of slashdot readers are college students, or at least were, you all know that there is WAY more to school that what you could get off a web page. In perticular, the people around you. I have learned more from them then I have from classes, just about.

    And what about research? You can't really conduct research that requires any sort of lab online.

    I think this idea is missing the point of school, you're learning life skills as well as job skills.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972