How many people might get to see a particular university lecture? The biggest academic halls hold a few hundred students. If the talk is more or less repeated every year then this might tot up to a handful of thousands in the entire career of a lecturer. How then about the idea of reaching out to a million?
The flattening of the globe which was so powerfully explored by Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, is coming to the fusty old world of the university lecture. Leading institutions are scrabbling to get on-board the latest educational technology vehicle, massive open online courses or MOOCs.
Using the power of Internet video technology these services offer university-level lectures to anyone with a computer and broadband, anywhere in the world. The leading proponent is Coursera, a US for-profit social enterprise which provides free online courses in a range of subjects and themes from the human genome to algorithm design.
The service launched in April with a small, but blue-chip, selection of US universities, but the University of Edinburg announced last week that it is joining the scheme and offering courses including an introduction to Astrobiology and Extra-terrestrial Life.
It is part of a wider move to what are being called open educational practices, offering as Edinburgh’s Jeff Haywood describes it: “ways to flex and bend the constraints that much of our traditional HE formats impose on us, and on our learners.” Or as Tim Berners-Lee put it at the Olympics opening ceremony – “This is for everyone.”