Learning, online: contd.

In the spirit of the scientific method, I begun a course on the internet: a truly positivist musing. Rather than rely on my own biased stance, or subjective analysis of players embedded in the argument, I have cast myself directly into the fray, to pursue higher learning, online.

Academic Earth is a website which features online courses from America’s leading universities, including Yale, Stanford, and MIT. The content comes from real classes taking place inside campus lecture halls. All participating students must fill out a waiver to allow their likeness to be displayed online. Prospective students have the option of choosing a particular lecture, or undergo the comprehensive course, as I am choosing to do. For the especially ambitious, a syllabus, in addition to copies of the course examinations and their respective solutions, are attached.

The title of my course is Game Theory, taught by Benjamin Polak, the Chairman of Yale’s Economics department. Game theory has been an personal curiosity for some time due to its many applications, seen across the realms of finance, politics, and behavioral economics.

Two lectures into the course, I have yet to find a notable difference between my “Yale” experience and that of any of my classes in large-capacity lecture halls, albeit with a better seat: the comfort of my own couch. What about the ability to participate, you may ask? As any college student knows, a very small minority regularly participates in these mega-lectures. I rarely (if ever) participate in the class discourse, preferring to use my notebook as a venue for revisiting and reviewing any particulars of the lecture I may have missed. In fact, Academic Earth’s lectures are malleable, with the ability to fast-forward, rewind, and pause as you wish. Try asking a professor to repeat himself in a class of 800 without feeling the collective glare of 799 annoyed cohorts.

Within the confines of the brick-and-mortar campus, I may be disposed to visit a teacher during his office hours. Yet, there are countless resources online that could easily assist me at any time online, which I use just as much when enrolled in a physical class. If anything, the open-source nature of the lectures are more tailored to me: I optimize my learning time by making sure that I’m not tired, distracted, or hungry during the online lectures.

I can unequivocally say that I am enjoying Game Theory. As I get to know Professor Polak better, I’m beginning to laugh at his jokes, and understand where his lectures are heading. Although he’ll never know my name, neither will the countless instructors who are commissioned to administer introductory knowledge to thousands of students each semester.

The primary caveat I see at the moment: I am genuinely interested in gaining footing in game theory, and have chosen this particular curriculum as such. Had the topic strayed dramatically from my interests, I imagine I would find myself hard pressed to remain immersed throughout the 1 hour, 20 minute lecture, void of supervision. Again, this follows my assertion of convergence above: my biggest lectures have mostly been a mixed bag, with the omnipresent variable being my interest in the subject at hand.

The crux of my argument remains: the discourse and argument seen in smaller lectures cannot possibly be re-created with Academic Earth’s recorded format. Although I’m sure the option exists to log onto live video streams, with an embedded chat function allowing for communal discourse, the opportunity for distraction and inability to truly engage in the Socratic method remains. Consider this version 1.0: I have no doubt that the model will continually improve.

In addition to these open-source classes, Academic Earth is a portal for the online bachelors and masters degrees, in addition to the ability to obtain credit for courses completed. I imagine this is Academic Earth’s main revenue stream. In an extreme example, one could theoretically obtain a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the London School of Economics in three years without ever stepping foot across the pond. Tuition is $5,000 USD, without the price of books. Room and board? Well, that depends on your home-country’s cost-of-living index…

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