There’s a surprising new trend in higher education. The Huffington Post reports some of the country’s highest-rated universities, including Harvard, Stanford and MIT are now offering several of their most popular courses for free online. Although taking the free online classes doesn’t allow you to accrue actual credit at the schools, it is still a great way to learn directly from some of the world’s most renowned scientists, doctors and educators. It also begs another question: should these colleges be giving the courses away for free when enrolled students are spending thousands of dollars to take the same courses?
According to The Huffington Post, those who support the free online courses say it will “lower teaching costs, improve learning online and on campus, and significantly expand access to higher education, which could fuel technological innovation and economic growth.” Other educators have warned that offering free courses could have a negative effect in the same way offering free content on the web has hurt the publishing and media industries. Another area of concern is that as technology advances and more courses become only available online, will that mean fewer jobs for teachers?
For example, amidst budget cuts the Eagle County, Colo. school district recently cut three foreign-language teaching positions and replaced them with online courses. While some teachers may begin to fear that technology could put them out of a job, supporters of online learning maintain the position that they are not looking to replace teachers, but only to make their jobs easier and more efficient. Michael Horn, the executive director of the Mountain View, Calif.-based Innosight Institute’s online education practice, told Education Week, “It’s not only about how do you bring teachers into these new roles so it is not disruptive to their own livelihood and so forth, but how you bring about these roles to ensure it brings about a better education system.”
As online courses become more prevalent, many believe the the key will be to make teachers online facilitators. Steve Yohey, superintendant of the Oak Hills school district in Cincinnati said, “You don’t want to create a competitive environment, where teachers feel like they’re competing for students with an online option.”
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