Law in the Internet Society

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SuperPeopleandUnderPeople 4 - 03 Oct 2011 - Main.DevinMcDougall
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Food for thought from the NYT. It's a powerful point about equity. But, note the implicit assumption of a zero-sum game, that investment of "intellectual capital" at top schools means underinvestment at less prestigious schools. In a zero marginal cost world, however, at least with respect to knowledge, that proposition is false: if we write once, we can read everywhere.
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 -- DevinMcDougall - 03 Oct 2011
Additionally: as it happens, there's another NYT article today, one which more precisely separates out zero and nonzero marginal costs as related to education, and recognizes the revolutionary potential of technology in knowledge distribution (Though it does not appear to recognize the role of copyright in holding back that potential or the gravity of the moral stakes involved in denying knowledge unnecessarily; the article ends with a rumination on the need of content providers to get paid):

Meanwhile, one of Stanford’s most inventive professors, Sebastian Thrun, is making an alternative claim on the future. Thrun, a German-born and largely self-taught expert in robotics, is famous for leading the team that built Google’s self-driving car. He is offering his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online and free of charge. His remote students will get the same lectures as students paying $50,000 a year, the same assignments, the same exams and, if they pass, a “statement of accomplishment” (though not Stanford credit). When The Times wrote about this last month, 58,000 students had signed up for the course. After the article, enrollment leapt to 130,000, from across the globe.

Thrun’s ultimate mission is a virtual university in which the best professors broadcast their lectures to tens of thousands of students. Testing, peer interaction and grading would happen online; a cadre of teaching assistants would provide some human supervision; and the price would be within reach of almost anyone. “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost,” Thrun told me.

The traditional university, in his view, serves a fortunate few, inefficiently, with a business model built on exclusivity. “I’m not at all against the on-campus experience,” he said. “I love it. It’s great. It has a lot of things which cannot be replaced by anything online. But it’s also insanely uneconomical.”

Thrun acknowledges that there are still serious quality-control problems to be licked. How do you keep an invisible student from cheating? How do you even know who is sitting at that remote keyboard? Will the education really be as compelling — and will it last? Thrun believes there are technological answers to all of these questions, some of them being worked out already by other online frontiersmen.

“If we can solve this,” he said, “I think it will disrupt all of higher education.”

-- DevinMcDougall - 03 Oct 2011

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