As a university teacher, a lover of technological advances, and a communication scholar, the notion of 58,000 students participating in a free online course enthrals me. Today's NY Times article, "Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course" describes how Peter Norvig and SebastianThrun are offering a course on artificial intelligence this fall through Stanford. Anybody, not just enrolled Stanford students, can sign up for the course. Non-Stanford students won't get credit, but they will get access to the same course.
According to the article, "The two scientists said they had been inspired by the recent work of Salman Khan, an M.I.T.-educated electrical engineer who in 2006 established a nonprofit organization to provide video tutorials to students around the world on a variety of subjects via YouTube.“The vision is: change the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today,” said Dr. Thrun."
From a communication scholar's perspective, opening up a course to 58,000 students is most certainly changing the world through education. So how can technology make it happen?
Apparently is starts with the basics of streaming Internet and interactive technology for quizzes and grading. But, to avoid systems crashing, Stanford will use Amazon Cloud. Google Moderator services will help manage the barrage of student questions by polling and ranking questions that are most prominent. Top-ranked questions will be answered in online discussion with the professors. In order to foster student-to-student interaction, a study group on reddit has been formed.
An interesting experiment in using technology to communicate and educate world wide, I look forward to watching it unfold. More information on the course can be found at http://www.ai-class.com/.