We've got technology; now what?

In this week's Atlantic, Gagan Biyani, cofounder of Udemy (a web start-up that provides a platform for anyone in the world to build their own online course with video, virtual-classroom sessions, etc.), said:

The price of college is going to fall, and the Internet is going to cause that fall. The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.

Forget that Biyani, or the rest of the article for that matter, is talking about higher education. The quote could just as easily apply to K-12 schooling in the States. The price of educating our youth is going to fall (in terms of per-pupil outlays, not the cost a family incurs to educate their child, as is the case in higher ed).? And the internet (I'm thinking of that term broadly and rather amorphously here to mean everything from broadband to wifi to 4G to superwifi) is going to catalyze that shift.

It all sounds great. And then Biyani hits you with the brick: ?The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.? If this were a grand game of Clue, we'd be missing the murder weapon. It was the Internet, in the classroom, with the? candlestick? (No, that can't be right?)

Along with Biyani's prophesy, though, the Atlantic article hints at one way to use technology to actually disrupt education's stagnant knowledge-delivery model. Beginning with MIT and its OpenCourseWare project, many elite colleges have started making lectures, slides, tests, and discussion-section material for various undergraduate and graduate courses available for free on the web. (The article highlights similar programs through Yale, Stanford, and Oxford?though there are others.) Internet-based ?students? can walk themselves through economics, mathematics, and physics courses taught by some of the best in the business?and can avail themselves of the same quality instruction and smart material that students at the Ivies and elites are exposed to.

Imagine if educators from the nation's top private secondary schools provided their classroom lectures and courses online free of charge. If youngsters attending public school from Anacostia or the Bronx were given the ability to access courses from Phillips Andover, Exeter, or Sidwell Friends. For these elite schools, competition with public schools isn't an issue. Accessing online course material from Exeter won't replace a diploma from the selfsame school. But it can jumpstart student learning. And it can infuse elements of some of the highest quality education into the public marketplace.

Providing free access to smart course content won't be sufficient to recreate K-12 schooling for the digital era, but it surely is necessary.

?Daniela Fairchild

Daniela Fairchild
Daniela Fairchild is a Development Manager and Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute