The ‘MOOC Movement’: Time to sign up

Battushig, a lad of just 15 years, recently became somewhat renowned for achieving a perfect score in a challenging course in advanced electronics offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more commonly known as MIT.

What made Battushig’s story remarkable – aside from his score – is that he took the course without having to leave his village in Mongolia, one of the most sparsely populated, and traditionally nomadic, countries in the world.

Battushig, like millions of others, is receiving his education online, taking advantage of new phenomenon called “MOOCs” – Massive Open Online Courses – a movement that is turning the traditional model of university education upside down. For doubters, note the fact that MOOCs are growing faster than Facebook.

On the front page of today’s Compass, we publish an important story exploring the origins of MOOCs, the “disruptive innovation” they are causing in the halls of academe, and the opportunities they offer us in the Cayman Islands. Much of the educational establishment, which includes professors, deans, admissions officers, scholarship providers, textbook publishers and assorted administrators, is awash with talk of MOOCs, and it’s in Cayman’s best interest to join the conversation.

Simply put, MOOCs make available university-level courses from the finest professors at the world’s most-respected institutions of higher learning – Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Johns Hopkins, for example – to anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection – all for free! Hundreds of courses, with more being added each day, are available online through MOOC providers such as Coursera, Udacity and edX.

The sage and seer Buckminster Fuller was (as usual) ahead of his time when he wrote: “I am certain that none of the world’s problems – which we are all perforce thinking about today – have any hope of solution except through total democratic society’s becoming thoroughly and comprehensively self-educated.”

Fuller didn’t invent the modern-day MOOC (the technology wasn’t in place for delivery of the information), but two computer science professors at Stanford University, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, did. They are now being likened to the Wright brothers, inventors of the airplane. Not much more than a year ago, Mr. Ng and Ms Koller put their own classes online and convinced a few other pioneering professors to do the same. And then the MOOC movement took off!

Consider this: In the past year, more than 155,000 students around the world have taken a course in introductory circuits, taught by MIT professor Anant Agarwal. That’s more than the total of MIT alumni in its 150 year history!

It is no criticism of UCCI, ICCI, St. Matthew’s or any of Cayman’s academic institutions to suggest that in a small territory such as ours, we cannot afford, or attract, the world’s most esteemed-educators to teach our students. At the same time, tuition costs, travel costs, entry requirements, and a whole host of other obstacles stand in the way of Caymanians (except for a very privileged few) having access to the world’s finest educators who are now offering their courses online which, as the MOOC model evolves, will no doubt lead to accredited degrees.

Imagine the possibilities of that for the people of these islands!

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