World's biggest lecture hall

A worldwide platform for a classroom teacher was once unthinkable — but no longer.

There are perhaps more questions than answers surrounding Coursera, the California company that offers free online classes to students all over the world.

But if early indications show anything, there appears to be a huge demand.

The University of Illinois is among a number of distinguished institutions of higher learning that have joined the Coursera coalition, and more than 31,000 students signed up for the UI's first online offering through this new entity — "Introduction to Sustainability" taught by Jonathan Tomkin.

If this is the response in the early stages of this exciting experiment in online education, what level of participation can people expect five, 10 or 20 years down the road? It's certainly a wave — maybe a tsunami — but is it the wave of the future?

It would be no surprise if the answer is yes because we are, after all, talking about a worldwide market of potential students for course offerings at an attractive price — free. If the educational quality is there, why wouldn't those starved for education beat down the figurative doors to get in?

The fact that so many outstanding institutions participate, including the UI, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Duke within the United States and others abroad, attests to the seriousness of the academics.

The finances, however, are another story. Just how will this make money for the investors? What sorts of capital investment will be required? How exactly does one grade the work of a 31,000-student class? Further, what does completion of the class mean for the student? Is it education for its own sake, certainly a most worthy pursuit, or with the intention of acquiring a marketable skill?

It shouldn't take too long before the answers to these questions and others begin to be fleshed out. An educational revolution could be in the offing. Then again, sometimes revolutions fall short of their anticipated goals.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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