College Education in an iPhone App

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Ben Cohen
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A fascinating report in the Atlantic on the Unversity of Southern California's experimentation with an online virtual classroom:

Since USC and Kaztman teamed up to create the country's first online course for a master's in teaching, called MAT@USC, the school that graduated only 100 students in 2007 is on pace to become the country's largest not-for-profit teacher prep program by 2013....

The centerpiece of MAT@USC is a virtual "classroom" accessible by laptop, smartphone or iPad. Live video feeds of the professor and a dozen students resemble the intro credits of The Brady Bunch (see above). Professors can post slides or discussion questions on the screen, students press a button to virtually "raise their hand," and everybody can watch recordings of past sessions.

The evolution of education from the actual classroom to the online classroom is in my view, irreversible. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen, but USC is certainly innovating along the right lines:

USC has embraced the realities of the 21st-century classroom. But the success of online teaching raises some thorny questions. If we can digitize a good education, and replace a classroom with a WiFi connection, is the teacher expendable, too? Could simulation and recorded lectures inadvertently point to a future where we need fewer teachers instead of more?

The irony of MAT@USC is that rather than replace teachers with online technology, USC is now creating thousands more. Not only has enrollment at the teacher prep program increased by a factor of ten in three years, but also faculty hiring at the school has kept pace. In 2010, the school had added 25 new full-time faculty plus numerous adjuncts.

Advancements in technology have the ability to destroy jobs and create them - a theme familiar in the world of online publishing. While there was a period of great destruction in content creation, new profitable entities are now emerging (the Huff Post, the Atlantic, the Awl, Gawker etc) proving that new models can become viable in the radically shifting internet world. Education costs are rising while wages are not and online innovation could bring much needed relief to students unable to afford exorbitant college fees. While institutions will resist the dramatic shift, the ones that begin to embrace it will thrive while the rest will wonder where all their students went.

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