meep (meep) wrote,

Market opportunity in education

I know I've posted this idea before, but I thought I'd do it again, as college admissions time is upon us and an article I just read is relevant:
Harvard College, for example, offered admission to only 7.1 percent of the 27,462 high school seniors who applied -- or, put another way, it rejected 93 of every 100 applicants, many with extraordinary achievements, like a perfect score on one of the SAT exams. Yale College accepted 8.3 percent of its 22,813 applicants. Both rates were records.

Columbia College admitted 8.7 percent of its applicants, Brown University and Dartmouth College 13 percent, and Bowdoin College and Georgetown University 18 percent -- also records.

Many factors contributed to the tightening of the competition at the most selective colleges, admissions deans and high school counselors said, among them demographics. The number of high school graduates in the nation has grown each year over the last decade and a half, though demographers project that the figure will peak this year or next, which might reduce the competition a little.

Yes, it may reduce competition. But there are still a lot of people looking for an elite education and not able to get into that elite. Now my own experience was that you could still get a rigorous education without a brand name (it takes a long time to build up reputation), but you do have to seek it out. I got a great education at NCSU, but some of my educational experiences related to me approaching particular profs directly and cutting deals so I could get out of lower-level courses so I could take grad-level courses instead.

In any case, given that I've been doing online teaching for almost a year now, and given that MIT, along with many other elite colleges, has put college-level material online, and considering my experience with the actuarial exams and the Teaching Company, I think the time is ripe for the improved productivity of online learning, and in an elite manner. And I want to fold in my idea of accountability in results.

The idea is this: you have recorded lectures, problem sessions, written material for a given class. People can watch as many times as they wish, as fast or slow as they desire, etc. There are available tutors (in the British university/St. John's College sense) for online discussions, answer questions -- and hey, why not video chat. It's getting to be easy to do that sort of thing. So the one bit where productivity can't be terribly improved is on the personal interaction needed. But not everybody is going to need that interaction. There will assignments and the like, but the point of those (you'd self-grade on those) would be to check that you understand the material against what's expected.

The thing is there will be some sort of test at the end of the course -- whether something like writing a paper, math exam, that sort of thing. Could even be multiple choice. Given the opportunities for cheating, this part would be proctored at a test center (like Kaplan or Sylvan).

Ok, let's just throw out the elite factor. This could work for any level. Let me explain why I see this as different from current online college classes. Current online college classes generally have a prof doing real-time lectures that are recorded -- but are never used again after the semester is over. I know why the profs have an interest in that, but... calculus ain't changing between this and the next semester. Also, everything is on a semester basis -- again, why? You can do a monthly, or whatever fee, for online access. Some people are faster and some slower than others. Why not allow them to do education on-demand?

And the exams -- I prefer exams to be set separate from the people teaching the material. I =really= like standardized exams, because they give you a reference point. You took first-year calculus and got an A... but was it an easy teacher or hard teacher? You can't judge teaching effectiveness by the grades the teacher himself hands out. The AP Calculus exam (as an example), provides an external check on what you actually know. And one could have competing teachers for the same course, and you could give out the info as to the pass rate for students choosing to take the course using that teacher's materials. I don't care what kind of degrees the teachers have -- you don't need a PhD, or even a bachelors, to teach calculus (I taught calc without a BS at NCSU. I don't think they thought I'd be lecturing to the class by myself for over a week when they let undergrads TA.)

I've got other details in mind, but this could go on forever. The end result would be a certificate of some sort/some kind of designation (like professional designations, such as my FSA). It wouldn't be a college degree, because accreditation for degree programs is ridiculous -- it measures only inputs, not outputs. You can't be sure that a graduate really knows anything useful given their degree -- you use proxies such as the brand name of the school, and the major. And trust in the quality control of that particular combination.

I'm putting this idea out there because I really, really would like to see this happen, and in my opinion, the idea is simple. Execution is difficult. And I'm not a general management type. I would like some other person to run with it. I'd just like to teach.

So if you know anybody (management/administrative type; business person looking for opportunities in the education market; whatever) who might like this idea, let them have the idea.
Tags: for me

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