The University of Phoenix and Harvard
The first time I thought seriously about online education was in March of this year, at a dinner following a workshop on the history of science in Korea. Gathered around a large table in a restaurant in Harvard Square were six professors and several other graduate students. As we were finishing up our dessert and wine, one of the professors said jokingly: “You know, I heard someone saying today that the greatest threat to Harvard in the 21st century is no longer Yale or Stanford, but the University of Phoenix.” The entire table, including myself, laughed as we shook our heads in disbelief.
This was even the first time that most of us had even heard of the University of Phoenix. The University of Phoenix operates with only an online program, accepts 100% of students as long as they can pay, and it is only a few decades old. But what does it have? It has 300,000 enrolled students, or about the entire population of the Harvard alumni association, all signed up to take their online courses. In the relatively young field of online education, they are among the best. They must be doing something right.
The world’s best universities joining the online wave.
The comment about the University of Phoenix then led into a conversation about HarvardX, a new initiative at Harvard that was launched in May 2012 after Harvard and MIT each contributed 30 million dollars to found the learning platform, edX. They were joining a movement in higher education captured in the term MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that is being described by some as the end of traditional education as we have known if for hundreds of years.
Unlike traditional courses that have been broadcast until now, they are not “one-way,” in where the teacher is taped lecturing and students watch through a TV or a computer monitor. Instead, MOOCs are fully interactive experiences that allow viewers not only to watch the material but engage with it by answering questions and most importantly, discussing the information with an online community of similarly interested participants.
Since its founding, edX has expanded its list of partners to include 29 schools, including Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, Caltech, as well as international partners in Europe, Australia, and Asia. HarvardX celebrated its 500,000 enrollment last month. The largest HarvardX courses Intro to Computer Science (CS50x) has 150,000 students.
Few students enrolled in Korea.
Oddly enough, the number of Koreans who have enrolled is small. As of August 18, it is estimated that only 1,700 have signed up from Korea. This is compared to the over 2,000 who have signed on from Japan, and 923 from Zimbabwe, just to cite some statistics. I can't help but think the low figure is shocking, given the amount of interest that Koreans have in all things Harvard. Just look at how many Korean tour buses come to campus on a daily basis, and how popular Michael Sandel has been in the past 2 years. (By the way, Michael Sandel also produced a MOOC for HarvardX called JusticeX. It wrapped up this summer).
My guess is that the number one reason why there aren't more Korean users is that they don't know about it yet. Hopefully this article will change this by informing Korean readers that they can watch the same lectures as Harvard students, even enhanced to a higher level, for absolutely free. Instead of paying thousands to travel abroad to see Harvard, Harvard, through HarvardX, will come to you.
In light of this huge development in higher education (one that many are calling a disruption or a revolution) I am here to let readers know what the process of creating a MOOC is like. This summer, I got involved in the production of a MOOC. I got to see the process from an insider’s standpoint as the “project manger” for ChinaX from June until now. While serving in this position, I have witnessed some unexpected events and come to some interesting realizations that I would like to share with readers in upcoming installments of this article.