The Limits of Free Courses

The Chronicle has a good article outlining some of the issues with the “open course” movement:

Steven T. Ziegler leapt to MIT off a mountain.

He was on a hang glider, and he slammed the ground hard on his chin. Recovery from surgery on his broken back left the 39-year-old high-school dropout with time for college courses.

From a recliner, the drugged-up crash victim tried to keep his brain from turning to mush by watching a free introductory-biology course put online by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hooked, he moved on to lectures about Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian from an English course at Yale. Then he bought Paradise Lost.

A success for college-made free online courses—except that Mr. Ziegler, who works for a restaurant-equipment company in Pennsylvania, is on the verge of losing his job. And those classes failed to provide what his résumé real ly needs: a college credential.

“Do I put that I got a 343 out of 350 on my GED test at age 16?” he says, throwing up his hands. “I have nothing else to put.”

The article also points out that because of the recession schools aren’t likely to build up in this area for awhile. It’s all very promising, but quite a few things still need to fall into place for free courses to be truly useful for the masses.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.