Stanford commits to online learning

Those smart guys and gals down on The Farm know a thing or two about teaching. (And about raising money, but that’s a different story.)

The latest innovation unfurled at Stanford University is a redoubled commitment to online learning. Stanford announced last week they had created a new Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning and installed in-house computer scientist John Mitchell to inaugurate the post.

Modern higher education comprises an interwoven fabric of subjects, individual interests and teaching methods.

Online learning, though, hasn’t enjoyed the global endorsement of educators, many of whom feel face-to-face instruction remains the best way to convey complex, university-level concepts.

One problem with online education is the generally poor quality of learning tools and classroom management software. Stanford’s stab at solving that problem includes funding the development of software and online tools to facilitate high-level teaching and learning.

About 15 online courses are offered this fall at Stanford, in topics ranging from math and engineering to entrepreneurship and social science. Mitchell told Stanford Report that more exciting courses are on the way:

“We’ve had exciting proposals for new courses and new online resources from humanities, sciences, engineering and the professional schools.”

Stanford made headlines last fall when they offered three popular computer science courses online for free. More than 350,000 students participated in the pilot, with about 43,000 completing their course. Another five classes were offered in the spring.

UC Berkeley offers free online courses as well, also using the Coursera platform.