I decided to go back to school this January and chose to attend Harvard, Duke, Holy Cross, UNC, Indiana, Ohio and San Jose State for my Freshmen year (which ends in three weeks). And I plan to spend my Sophomore year (which will run through June) at Yale, Wesleyan, and the California Institute of Technology.
In other words, I’ve decided to push the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) phenomenon to its limit and see if it’s possible to obtain the equivalent of a Bachelors Degree in just twelve months.
MOOCs have been in the news all year, alongside stories of other emerging online options or alternatives to traditional public or private K-12 and college education.
This is part of the wild growth (some would say speculation) in the educational sector as the “Next Big Thing” with startups starting up and investors investing in hope that Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers was right when he said in 2001 that “E-Learning is the next killer app: it will make email look like a rounding error.”
True, some of the initial shine on MOOCs has worn off, to the point where we are already seeing signs of a backlash. Still, the problems MOOCs and other investment-fueled entrepreneurial projects are trying to solve are real, with some of the most glaring examples being:
- the skyrocketing cost of obtaining a college diploma
- questionable results from decades of public education reform
- widening achievement gaps between haves and have-nots in an economy with lessening room for those without some kind of advanced degree
Now it may turn out that massive online courses are just a stepping stone to whatever option or options emerge to provide a viable alternative to traditional institutional learning. But while we cannot say for certain what it means that millions of students around the world are enrolling in such courses, I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t mean nothing.
The problem is that much of the discussion around MOOCs (and similar online learning resources) has gotten ahead of the phenomena itself by focusing on how students can obtain credit for participating in such courses, rather than zeroing in on what is taught and (more importantly) learned through the MOOC experience.
Beyond policy makers, investors, entrepreneurs and journalists talking about the MOOC phenomenon in abstract terms, the amount of first-hand experience regarding this supposed brave new world has come in the form of stories from individuals who have taken or taught a specific online course. What’s lacking amongst this high-level analysis and anecdotal data is the experience of someone ready to take the plunge and see how far one can actually get trying to recreate a quality college experience using the new free online tools.
Which is why I decided to get on the diving board (or, perhaps, walk the plank).
This Degree of Freedom blog will chronicle my one-year effort to learn the equivalent of a Bachelor’s entirely through free online classes. The “degree” I will be pursuing will be in liberal arts (I plan to “major” in philosophy), which itself should open up some interesting conversations, given that MOOCs are just beginning to branch out from their initial focus on popular computer science subjects.
The entire course load for this project will involve taking the equivalent of 32 liberal arts college courses between now and the end of 2013, a number large enough to allow me to sample the product from every MOOC provider currently making headlines, as well as a number of other alternatives for free quality college-level content that don’t get this same level of coverage.
Starting next week, I’ll outline my course plan and give you a sense of what you can expect from following this Degree of Freedom project throughout the year.