Tech must enhance its online offerings

For such a tech-savvy school, Tech doesn’t have nearly enough of a presence in online education opportunities. While several peer universities maintain a healthy presence on iTunes U and YouTube with courses, tutorials, and lecture series, Tech is noticeably absent from this arena. While our school has certainly grasped the use of social media for things like announcements, news and keeping in touch with its students, it seems a little behind the curve in using it to get actual intellectual content out to people who can use it.

While Tech avoids expanding into this area, several universities—many of which have far less prestige than Tech—have embraced the idea with open arms. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can go online and learn about any topic under the sun. From economics, to C#, to the theology of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, if you want to know about it, some university has posted a lecture of it online.

Some universities even take it past just posting a few interesting tidbits. MIT’s OpenCourseWare, for example, allows internet users to study whole courses at their leisure, with everything from audio, to video, to lecture slides available for perusal.

It seems like maintaining at least some presence on iTunes U or the like would also be an excellent recruiting tool for the school as well, at a fraction of the effort required by several of Tech’s current program. At any recruitment event I know of, a visit to a class is always one of the main things on the agenda, so why not allow students to see a class without dragging them all the way down to Atlanta?

For me, at least, a major part of the college search was seeing what I could find online about the colleges on my short list. Though Tech was definitely at the top of my list by this point, I was put off by the utter lack of any examples of courses here. I found dozens of examples from what seemed like every one of Tech’s academic rivals, and even several that I wouldn’t consider anywhere near Tech’s level of performance.

Stanford, MIT, and Carnegie-Mellon all maintain a fairly large collection of coursework online, both through organized channels like iTunes and simply through individual professors posting lectures on YouTube. Aside from making these universities seem more accessible and impressive, it also made Tech’s absence that much more noticeable. It made me think, “If these schools are confident enough in their material to put it up for the world to see, why isn’t Tech?”

Making a bigger effort here might also go a long way towards increasing Tech’s prestige up to the next level. Too often it seems that Tech is overshadowed by some of it’s contemporaries, even when there’s not really much difference in the quality of their education.

In computer science, for example, the names to beat are the ones I listed above: Stanford, MIT and Carnegie-Mellon. Regardless of whether or not these programs are any better or worse than Tech, they’ve got name recognition as the places to go for a good Computer Science education. The problem is equally about shifting people’s perceptions of Tech as much as it is about improving programs here at Tech.

Of course, a big potential concern with posting lectures online would be students skipping out on lecture entirely. While this is certainly a valid concern, I don’t see it affecting attendance too drastically. Students already have lecture slides, textbooks, friends’ notes and solution manuals to replace going to lecture, so giving them one more resource isn’t going to result in any paradigm shifts in lecture attendance.

Even if it did, who’s to say that’s a bad thing? The students who care would still attend, and would probably benefit from a smaller class size anyway. If it is worth going to class, students will still go. If not, then why should they attend anyway?

There’s always a lot of talk about interdisciplinary education being the next big thing, so why not let students learn about another field without making them wade through a degree’s worth of prerequisites so they can take a class?

While a student might not be willing to go through the hassle of taking or auditing a class, that same student might not mind spending an afternoon skimming through videos on the topic. If they’re going to be watching YouTube while “studying,” why not at least let them get something out of it?