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“I Want to Teach Engineering to a Billion”: Anant Agarwal, President of EdX (Part 6)

Posted on Tuesday, Feb 19th 2013

Sramana: That is absolutely awesome. The state of engineering education in India, outside of IIT, is awful.

Anant Agarwal: I really care about creating courses that have the same quality and rigor of on-campus courses. There is a misconceived notion that online courses cannot have the same quality of education. I disagree. We have proven that you can take the exact same courses which are taught at places like MIT and deliver them online. The course assignments are the same. There are videos of the lectures. If students have questions, they can contact the professors directly. I would argue that this is superior to similar courses taught elsewhere. The quality of the courses that we deliver with edX is the same quality as the courses delivered on campus. There are advantages to delivering a course online. The student can watch the lecture multiple times. That may even give online course delivery an advantage. A student might miss a key statement during a lecture, but with the video online they can watch it multiple times until they comprehend the concept.

I believe one of the biggest areas of promise with edX is the blended campus. I keep going back to the San Jose State example because that is a perfect example of a blended course. The students took the class at San Jose State, but they augmented their studies with our online content. They came to class already prepared. They knew the questions they needed to ask, so there was still time for that interaction with the professor. They could then review the material multiple times to ensure comprehension. The results speak for themselves. A course with a 40% failure rate dropped to a 9% failure rate.

Sramana: This is the paradigm where education is going. I truly believe online education is the driver. The old model of education was the ‘sage on stage’ model, where a professor stood in the front of a class to guide learning. That is fine if you have excellent professors, but there are really smart professors who do not have the charisma to present a topic in a way that students can understand. When quality content is delivered from an online source, there is a consistency in the content. The course itself can be benchmarked and the results tracked, allowing the course content to mature to ensure students are learning the material they are supposed to learn. The paradigm shift is toward the blended model. Even if you have a mediocre or substandard professor, the course material itself is excellent. The professors can still serve a worthy function as they are there managing the classroom and guiding discussions. They provide structure and administration. The students learn from world-class content. That is a highly scalable education model.

Anant Agarwal: I like to quip that great lectures make for good theater, but the future of education is online. Everything you say is completely true, and I agree. That is why I am so excited about what we are doing at edX. We are changing the way that education, a cornerstone of society, is delivered.

This segment is part 6 in the series : "I Want to Teach Engineering to a Billion": Anant Agarwal, President of EdX
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