It seems that Sebastian Thrun, Google Fellow and research professor at Stanford University, has decided to quit Stanford, giving up his tenure, to start a new online university called Udacity. His goal is to enroll 500,000 students for his first course – which will be free — on how to build a search engine.To be blunt, the old model of university is likely to fade rapidly. The way that we teach traditional classes is left over from the medieval period--from the graduation gowns (originally clerical robes, because universities started out as cathedral schools) right down to lecturing to a bunch of students in a classroom (because books were too expensive for students--or even professors--to buy).
Online classes are part of the change, but sometimes tells me that Thrun is going to be part of the next wave that completely destroys the old model in a generation or two. And at least at the high end, it needs destroying, as Thrun points out:
Thrun apparently thinks that, important and revolutionary though the realization of self-driving cars would be, the concept of freely-available online education, taught by pre-eminent technology leaders, has even more potential to change the world. In the US, over the past generation the concept of a college education has shifted from being an opportunity to learn important ideas that will fit a student to contribute to a dynamic, free society, to getting into an expensive, exclusive club that allow you to rub shoulders with other future power brokers who will protect and enrich the status quo. Is the education itself at Harvard really that much better than at a fine state university? No. But families and students waste an incredible amount of effort trying to get into Ivy League schools to join this club of elites. (And those elites are the same people who brought us the worldwide financial meltdown of the past ten years.)