Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Floating University

The concept of university is under review. Even if the term is strictly defined in most countries there are plenty of new educational arenas flying the university flag but not following the traditional definition. I've frequently discussed Peer 2 Peer University and University of the People in this blog and although they are not "real" universities, the name sets the tone and the level of the type of study they provide. Their courses are university level though they do not lead to recognized university credits (yet). Purists may protest and scoff but these are providing higher educational opportunities in interesting new ways to new groups of students and I would expect such alternative forms of higher education to increase in the near future.

Floating Holiday Candles in Reflection P by aimilino01, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  aimilino01 

A new variation on this theme is being tested this term. It's called simply The Floating University. The venture is described as:
"...a joint venture between The Jack Parker Corporation and Big Think, a knowledge forum where the world's top experts engage the thinking public to explore the big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century."

What they've done is to sign up a star-studded cast of academic elite and filmed a series of polished lectures where they give their overviews and thoughts on their various fields. The lectures are supplemented by notes, suggested reading, assignments and discussion forums and the result is a series of master class courses: a kind of academic All-star game. The first course is being launched right now and is called Great big ideas.

"Great Big Ideas delivers the key takeaways of an entire undergraduate education. It's a survey of twelve major fields delivered by their most important thinkers and practitioners. Each lecture explores the key questions in the field, lays out the methods for answering those inquiries and explains why the field matters. It is an effective introduction to thinking differently, and a primer in the diverse modes of problem solving essential for success in the 21st century."

Unlike the university alternatives mentioned earlier, the Floating University is not an example of open educational resources, nor is it free. Great big ideas costs $495 for the 12 lectures and study material. Individuals can enroll but the main idea is to provide ready-to-go courses for other universities to offer. I would imagine that those "real" universities can then provide their own teachers to guide students through the material but they would obviously not need to do any lecturing themselves.

The course is being offered as a regular campus option by three major universities: Harvard, Yale and Bard. One unique feature is having top harvard professors teaching a class at Yale and vice versa. I can imagine a future scenario where smaller universities around the world will offer Floating University courses where top academics provide the input but the local teachers provide the context and guide the students' discussions and reflection.

Is this a threat or opportunity or simply filling an innovative gap in the market? It's certainly a fascinating area to keep an eye on.

Have a look around the Floating University web site. There are plenty of films and sample lectures but since all are copyright I can't show them here.

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