Your humble blogger has been following the raging debate about online education for a number of reasons. First, like offshore outsourcing last decade, it's a phenomenon that has finally spread to a profession that is pretty traditional -- in no small part because higher education has not thought of itself as a tradeable good. Second, it's a fascinating development without any consensus about the end point. And third, as a prof, I have some skin in this game.
Now I have a little more... er... skin in this game. Over the past year I have been working with The Teaching Company to prepare one of their Great Courses, and it's now available for order. The course is modestly titled "The Foundations of Economic Prosperity." Here's a brief description:
Prosperity has transformed the world. Defined as the ability to afford goods and services beyond basic necessities, prosperity is now a way of life for most residents of developed countries—so commonplace that few people realize what a rare and recent phenomenon it is.
A mere two centuries ago, most people lived at a subsistence level, in or near the edge of poverty, as the overwhelming majority had since prehistoric times. Then the Industrial Revolution began and per capita income shot up. It is still rising today.
But the story of prosperity is far from simple—or complete. Many people in the developed world fear that their children will be less prosperous than they are. Meanwhile, new economic titans such as China and Brazil enjoy year after year of rapid growth and an ever-rising standard of living. Elsewhere in the world, millions are still trapped in poverty, despite the best efforts of organizations such as the World Bank to help lift them out of it.
Fostering and sustaining economic prosperity—whether at the individual, national, or global level—is a multilayered endeavor that reaches far beyond economics into the political and social spheres....
Professor Drezner shows that achieving prosperity involves more than economics. Psychology, sociology, political science, and history also come into play. By taking this broad view, he leads you to fundamental insights about how the modern world works and a deeper understanding of the functioning of the U.S., European, Chinese, and other major economies, as well as an appreciation for the special problems faced by underdeveloped nations.
Buy the whole thing and
help me pay for my children's college education learn about the political economy of prosperity.
Now, this is not a course for credit, or a MOOC, or anything that's bandied about as the future of higher education. After spending the past year designing and making this course, however, let me say that those who believe that it will be easy to "scale up" existing lecture courses into the online world are kidding themselves. Teaching to a classroom audience requires a very different pedagogy than teaching to a captive online audience. The former can provide instantaneous feedback, which is crucial for a professor. They can ask for a concept to be repeated, or ask a follow-up question, or query about how the abstract concept under discussion connects to a headline of the day. None of these things are easy to pull off for an online audience.
I will also add that the amount of effort I put into the Foundations of Economic Prosperity easily exceeded anything I've had to do for my traditional lectures or seminars. This is not because I slack off with my Fletcher students -- rather, it's because teaching those courses is a collaborative exercise between me and the students. With a strictly online course, the professor has to do a lot more work to keep it engaging.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.