Monday, November 5, 2012

Special Blog Assignment #1

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A World Where Grades Will Be Left Behind

In this USA Today article, Sebastian Thrun's ideas about how education might change in the next thirty years are described. Thrun is a Google vice president as well as the founder of Udacity, which is an education company. He used to be a professor at Stanford, but after creating an online course and experiencing that style of teaching, he could not bring himself to go back. He says once one experiences this form of education, there is no going back. His goal is to make education available online as well as free all within a very flexible environment filled with playing games for lessons. These courses would be taught by the best professors all around the world. Certifications and exams would require a fee.

As for grades, the idea is quite simple. There wouldn't be any. Students would be allowed to take as much time as they need to master each lesson. Classes would be large, reaching thousands of students all at once. These ideas are not meant to push education as we know it out the door, but rather it would be to allow as many people as possible to receive a quality education. This change in education is compared to the invention of film. Movies have not replaced live shows, but they have allowed more people to experience the stories.

I think there are both good and not so good points made in this article. For example, I have mixed feelings about his idea that learning should be as much fun as playing a video game. I absolutely love the idea of making learning fun and students being enthused about learning. I just worry that lessons in some schools would become more about fun and less about being engaging. Basically, I'm all for the idea, but I also think teachers would need to be very careful about making sure students are still learning the material.

I agree with his point that grades have become the focus of education instead of the actual learning. However, at the same time, I do think that students need boundaries. The whole "take as much time as you need to learn this" thing would probably backfire with many students. No matter how education is set up, I think there will always be that group of students who aren't interested at all in learning. Telling this particular group of students that they have as much time as they need to master a skill or lesson will probably translate to, "If I just say I still don't understand, I won't have to do more difficult lessons." Having said this, self-paced learning can still be a good thing. I just think it would work best if there is some sort of deadline at the end of the course that all lessons should have to be completed by. This way, we could still be sure that the students are getting all of the information they need to succeed in later courses.

I think this style of learning would work very well for many people who try to attend college with already established careers or families. A self-paced program would allow these people to learn on their own schedule. Also, since the learning is free, it would not be a big deal to drop a course and try again the next semester. Overall, the ideas presented in this article have their pros and cons, but I think this could be a really effective way to improve education as we know it.

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