I can't imagine how different it is to go to college, university or even high school in this digital era. How much easier is to research your book report now that the combined reference knowledge of human civilization can be found simply by asking the right question to Google?
The educational potential of the internet is literally limitless. We've already hit an era where a Doctorate can be earned at most universities from anywhere in the world via the internet. Since geography is no longer a limitation, the last remaining barrier for most students in earning a degree is money.
Ask any teacher and they will probably tell you that they didn't get into their profession for the money. I believe this is true of most professionals' motivations. Theirs is a betterment agenda, not a capital one. They seek to improve themselves and the world they live in and trust that the money will come along the way.
A little over a year ago I had the privilege of meeting Bill Gates at a Corbis function in New York City where a handful of senior "Mad Men" and trade journalists discussed the impact of social media in communications. Mr. Gates reminisced on how he used to feed his fascination with science by corresponding with leading university professors in order to get the latest course material on topics like cell-cluster microscopic organisms. He said he found this information "great for night time reading before bed". He recognized the privilege he had in getting free access to these elite educators. "Now," he said, "this information is readily available on the web for anyone who has an interest". His eyes broadened and he shook his head introspectively at the scale of this potential.
Not long ago, iTunes created a category in their online store called "iTunes U" and began to offer courses from the likes of Yale, Stanford, MIT, UCLA, Berkley, Queen's and dozens more.
"iTunes U is a part of the iTunes Store featuring free lectures, language lessons, audiobooks, and more, that you can enjoy on your iPod, Mac or PC. Explore over 75,000 educational audio and video files from top universities, museums and public media organizations from around the world. With iTunes U, there's no end to what or where you can learn."
iTunes U is 100% free.
This is a great reference resource, but what about the content that is cutting edge? This content is often found in the most recent editions of textbooks. Ask any student and they will tell you that most of these books can set them back hundreds of dollars. R. Preston McAffee, an economics professor at Cal Tech wants to put a stop to that.
From the New York Times
"In protest of what he says are textbooks' intolerably high prices â€" and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market â€" Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.
"This market is not working very well â€" except for the shareholders in the textbook publishers," he said. "We have lots of knowledge, but we are not getting it out."
It seems Professor McAfee is in it for the betterment of the world, not his own personal financial gain, and he is not alone in this thinking. Richard G. Baraniuk, engineering professor at Rice University created Connexions. This website not only distributes textbooks digitally for free, but also permits a creative commons trait with the right to remix, reuse and reform the content to make it the most relevant possible.
"In addition to being a repository for textbooks covering a wide range of subjects and educational levels, its ethic is taken from the digital music world," explained Professor Baraniuk " ... rip, burn and mash."
Rising tuitions seem counter-intuitive to this trend. Are we facing a greater class distinction in the future where somebody could educate themselves to the level of a Harvard graduated economist, but will not carry the degree simply because of the estimated $50k a year tuition? Free post-secondary degrees may still be a dream in North America, but social media may provide a platform for this dream to become a reality sooner then we think.
Tags: bill gates, Cal Tech, collin douma, corbis, creative commons, education, free education, Harvard, itunes u, post secondary education, R. Preston McAffee, radical trust, Rice University, Richard G. Baraniuk, Rising tuition, social media
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