News / USA

Digital Revolution Shakes Colleges

Jim Randle
Advancing digital technology is bringing major changes to higher education, after upending journalism, the music business, manufacturing and many other industries.  In a few cases, this digital revolution means tens of thousands of students can sign up for one class taught by top professors.  The pace of change in higher education is getting faster, and will affect teaching, student evaluation, and access to knowledge.

Imagine a university class with 160,000 students sitting at computers all around the world, all learning from the same professors.

It is not science-fiction.  It is a class at Stanford University in California taught by Sebastian Thrun.

"We are teaching this class at Stanford and now we are teaching it online for the entire world," said Thrun. "We are really excited about this."

The class in artificial intelligence by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig can be found on YouTube.  It's free, and proponents say it shows that top scholars can efficiently teach some subjects to anyone, anywhere.

Universities have been slow to change, according to Professor Rita McGrath at Columbia University in New York.

“The basic business model of our higher education has not changed since the age of Socrates. It is some guy standing in front of a group of people talking," said McGrath. "The advanced version is they ask questions."

McGrath tracks industries undergoing rapid change.  She says digital technology has improved and is about to spark major changes. Those change including how teachers teach, according to University of Maryland Professor Spencer Benson.  

"It's changed, in part, the role of the teacher or the role of the professor from being the content delivery unit to being the person who helps students find and evaluate and utimately be able to use content," said Benson.

Another change is the way a student's progress is measured.  Rob Hughes is the president of TopCoder, a company that awards on-line credentials to students.  
"Certainly code, software development, mathematics, algorithms, computer science; those things lend themselves very well to objective and automated testing systems," said Hughes.

More difficult to assess is student progress in literature, history and other nontechnical fields.  

One solution is to use online classes to present material, but still have an instructor to assess a student's understanding.

That is something Professor George Siemens has done at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada.  

"It really is a very exciting time to be in education, but it is a little unsettling because we are asking big questions, about will the university survive, and if it does, what is it going to look like?" said Siemens.

While education leaders think many future classes will be online, some students at the University of Maryland have concerns.  
"It just seems it would be a little alien and harder to learn that way," said Cooper Gilbert.

"Late night studying with friends in the dorm was, like, really crucial for grades and classes," said Chuma Obineme.

These students liked the idea that online classes could be cheaper than traditional courses and available to people outside the university.

While some scholars say universities will resist change, others insist that massive online classes are just part of a digital revolution that will soon bring dramatic changes to the ways knowledge is gathered and shared.

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Comment Sorting
by: Mauri Yambo from: Nairobi, Kenya
June 01, 2012 1:10 AM
A few large classes of 500+ students are already a reality in some Faculties at the University of Nairobi, for example. 'Purists' reluctant to accept change or acknowledge the burning desire (for higher education) of the hordes of young men and women massing at the gates of academia may sneer at this, but time is passing them by. Yes, technology will increasingly enlarge the learning space, and engaged minds will satisfactorily solve the problem of mass scale examination and certification. But some 'disciplines' or specialized areas of learning will definitely, and indefinitely, continue to require that invaluable, and for them, irreplaceable, face-to-face contact between learner and facilitator.

by: Peter Cao from: Beijing, China
June 01, 2012 12:48 AM
There is a serious miscarriage of justice situation in the handling of Gabriele Scheler's case since 2006 when a malicious office ZZZ took power at Santa Clara DA's Office; since then, ZZZ (after ZZZ stepped down, anther office YYY) had chosen to stand on criminal suspect Scheler's side and tried to cover up their crimes while collateralled with the suspect side to conspire victims (e.g. Stanford, May Zhou, me, etc.)... which led to a series of retaliation crimes from Scheler's side, highlighted by the killing of May Zhou in 2007 and an unsucessful plot on my life last year. ... tell more later

Flag Edit ReplyReply Peter Cao 0 minutes ago

This is a war between fascism and anti-fascism, at this stage, fascism still prevails in our lives, Eric Schmidt, Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler are just front figures we could see in this fascism circle, there is a whole pack of fascists behind them

Eric, as we can see, starting from Gabriele Scheler's atrocity case on Stanford campus back in 2004, many people, including Gabriele Scheler, Sebastian Thrun, you Eric Schmidt, and also your collegue in China Kaifu Lee, had made contributions to such fascism crimes which had cost human lives ( and crimes which had retaliated on victims and almost cost life of the victim as I am

... ... and someone who provided legal coverage for your fascism crimes, including a powerful officer from Santa Clara DA, namely ZZZ (and later YYY), , and who had further collateralled with your side(suspect side) to conspire and curse victims( Stanford, May Zhou, me) in every possible way since 2006 till today; and maybe include the officer who insist on May Zhou's death as a suicide or accident, even though I had clearly pointed out who's involved in May Zhou's murder case ...

... ... and someone who could provide political support for your fascism crimes, including top politician from the country of Germany whom we all know, and maybe including a retired top politician from UK as well, etc. and more and more to find out later ...
I believe, though some names missed out, all names mentioned in the above comment are part of this fascism circle

by: Peter Cao from: Beijing, China
June 01, 2012 12:47 AM
On 2012/02/21 StanfordDaily article "virtual-learning" [] in Comments part regarding to a murder case about a Stanford student May Zhou with which Eric Schmidt had threatened my life for sake of a stanford professor Sebastian Thrun and a criminal suspect named Gabriele Scheler during their fight with Stanford:



About your ARROGANT question "If you think you have evidence (and i mean physical evidence) to the contrary why do you not take it to the police, or at least post what evidence you have (and I mean PHYSICAL evidence like fibres, DNA, fingerprints and the like)."
I am not physically in America, so I'd rather communicate with the police officer who's respnosible for May Zhou's case via email to tell serious stuff, my contact [] , or we could discuss it right here on this board. Before the officer who's responsible would contact me for a serious discussion, how could you know there is no such PHYSICAL evidence to say May Zhou's death is definitely a murder but not a suicide? As a matter of fact, such PHYSICAL evidence already exists and that's what I am going to tell.
The point at this time is, who is this officer who's respnosible for May Zhou's case, whom I should talk to? Could you have me connect with this officer? I have serious stuff to report Meanwhile, why don't you help us to figure out what's the motivation behind May Zhou's death

by: Peter Cao from: Beijing, China
June 01, 2012 12:46 AM

Sebastian Thrun left Stanford because he is in debt to Stanford people with his involvment into Stanford student May Zhou's death, he is not innocent in an unsuccessful plotted murder on me either and I have been cursed by powers from Sebastian Thrun's side for many years. Sebastian Thrun dare not deny to the public his involvment into such fascism crimes till today and I am still waiting to see why he dare not

by: Peter Cao from: Beijing, China
June 01, 2012 12:46 AM
Stanford student May Zhou's death was because of hostilities against Asian people originated in Gabriele Scheler’s false accusations, Sebastian Thrun and Eric Schmidt together with powers behind them had expanded such hostilities into Stanford, Google, legal system, etc. and they had even plotted an unsuccessful murder on me last year as well,
Brief of real names, dates, photos along with a police case number are listed in my blog link [ ]I brought the case to the public because as a human being, anyone has the responsibility to crack down such a murder case which includes killing the innocent, conspire life of the victim, terrorize/extort authorities, corruption, miscarriage of justice, discrimination against Asian, etc. Any media interested in helping to clarify this case to the public please contact: or

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