April 14, 2013

The changing face of education

So I’m reading page A2 of the Feb. 8 edition of the Press-Republican, and this headline catches my eye: “College credit recommended for free online courses.”

Reading further, I learn that Duke University is offering a course, “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” — a topic that has long interested me, but I’ve never had enough time to investigate fully.

I was also curious to see how much progress has been made in the past (roughly) 40 years in the area of Computer Managed Instruction (CMI), which not only delivers courses but manages the total learning environment by assigning resources (e.g. books, videos, teachers) and evaluating the student’s progress through exams, labs and other learning experiences.

In fact, in the mid-1970s I had designed and implemented a CMI system named ACCOLADE around a course in Computer Literacy.

Next, I went to my favorite search engine, Google, and entered, “Genetics and Evolution Duke University” and before I could lift my coffee to my lips, I was presented with a page of links that beckoned and promised to guide me in my quest.

I also learned that these massive, open, online courses were referred to as a MOOC and that the New York Times, about six months ago, named the “Big Three” MOOCs as Coursera, Udacity and edX (

The MOOC List website, which claims to be “a complete list of massive open online courses (free online courses) offered by the best universities and entities,” seems to have a more comprehensive list (

I strongly suspect both lists are not current since the content of the Internet changes so rapidly that nothing is ever really up to date.

I chose to register with the Coursera Corp. and while only moderately badgered to join the “signature” edition of the course — which accredits the experience for only a small sum, I suppose — I soon reached the Home page,  which read:

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Peter Black: Canadian Dispatch
Lois Clermont, Editor

Cornell Cooperative Extension

Richard Gast: Cornell Ag Extension

Bob Grady

Guest Columns

Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

Health Advice
Ray Johnson: Climate Science
Gordie Little: Small Talk
Terry Mattingly: On Religion

Steve Ouellette: You Had To Ask

Colin Read: Everybody's Business

Pinch of Time