Saturday, September 04, 2010

Lessons in history: iTunes U and the quiet revolution in university education

Amidst all the noise and turbulence of humanity, what will become historic? Some things are obvious. If there are history books in 100 years, they will include a paragraph about 9/11.

Other historic events slide in slowly, and are little noted. I think the transformation of university and even secondary education is like that. Consider a two recent little noted stories (emphases mine) ...
iTunes U Downloads Top 300 Million (Apple press release)
... In just over three years, iTunes® U downloads have topped 300 million and it has become one of the world’s most popular online educational catalogs. Over 800 universities throughout the world have active iTunes U sites, and nearly half of these institutions distribute their content publicly on the iTunes Store®. New content has just been added from universities in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and Singapore, and iTunes users now have access to over 350,000 audio and video files from educational institutions around the globe....
and then there's Sal Kahn (quote excludes stupid parts of this Fortune article [1])
... Khan Academy, with Khan as the only teacher, appears on YouTube and elsewhere ... Khan's playlist of 1,630 tutorials (at last count) are now seen an average of 70,000 times a day -- nearly double the student body at Harvard and Stanford combined. Since he began his tutorials in late 2006, Khan Academy has received 18 million page views worldwide ... Most page views come from the U.S., followed by Canada, England, Australia, and India. In any given month, Khan says, he's reached about 200,000 students....
Kahn, contrary to the silly Fortune article, isn't in the same league as iTunes U, but he's part of a the same quiet revolution as the UK's university lecture podcasts, OpenAccess JournalsMIT's Open U, and, yes, wikipedia. It's a revolution presaged by the vast lecture hall I visited in Bangkok in 1981, by the early morning TV lectures of decades past, and by the BBC's long history of radio education.

The transformation of higher education has been underway for ten years out of sight of the rich world. It is going to come to places like France's infamous Nanterre University, and it will come to America after the college bubble bursts.

Sometimes change that moves slowly can be powerful.

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