The Chronicle of Higher Education covers MRU

Mr. Cowen hopes the site will become a library of explanatory videos about economics, not all of which will be organized into courses. He pictures a day when professors routinely make videos to explain their latest research findings to supplement their scholarly papers. “In less than five years most papers of every note will have a five-minute video,” Mr. Cowen predicts. “People can view it, rewind, rewatch, relisten. You can show it to classes.”

Here is more (listed as gated, but it wasn’t for me).

And here is good additional Washington Post coverage.


This doesn't compare to the skype delivered private tutoring on linear algebra and optimization problems that I receive from my Indian tutor Ishaan.

Is there some sort of centralized marketplace for that sort of thing? analysis says that MRU is most successful in *Uganda* where it's at rank 343 (followed by Spain at rank 58,073).

These number shouldn't be taken too literally but for a free course on Development Economics this does make a point nonetheless.

Did you remember to register with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education?

No need to register! Minnesota is not asking colleges that offer free, not-for-credit courses to register and will work with the state legislature and the Governor to change the 20-year old law next session.

The most telling part of the article on MRU was the following:

"I asked George Mason's provost, Peter Stearns, what the university gets out of the deal. "The only way to respond is with reasonable candor," he said. "This was their baby, they did it. They told us about it—central administration and also their own dean—only when the project was well advanced." Since then, the institution has encouraged the spin-off university and wants to learn from it, the provosts added, but George Mason will probably also build its own free online courses "that will be more clearly ours in terms of institutional backing."

The question I have is this: universities decide what their faculty will teach. Usually the department and the department chair decides who is qualified to teach a particular subject, say development economics. Now, say your some young dude who wants to teach the university class, but some old fogey is currently teaching development economics and your department says, No, you are teaching undergrad economics. Pay your dues.

Does this development: 1) put the universities reputation at risk--since, afterall, the young dude is saying he's a prof at the university; 2) undermine how the university wants to develop faculty specialization (suppose the dude really doesn't specialize in development economics, but wants to teach it neverthess.

Of course, there is one other element in the room, and we might as well identify it: faculty members sell their own textbooks, and make money on them. So, for the more entreprenureal in the audience, do you think it more likely or less likely authors of textbooks will offer "free" online courses sponsored by their university.

I would be eager to offer a free online course if I had 89,000 students (as is the case in some Coursera courses) and sold the textbook.

The brick and mortars are along for the ride.

The only reason to be a professor is for the autonomy.

And you think that's a bad thing?

I think Universities are our best attempt at creating Satan. They serve the heretofore useful purpose of intermediary and broker between teachers and learners and also places to accept government grants so the money isn't completely wasted. The key word being "heretofore."

On the subject of online faculty promoting their books as a way to make money from the universities free online class, the opportunity to make money can also work in the opposite direction.

Say you are the publisher of the Idiot series of books: Calculus for Dummies, etc. You could have faculty, or even well trained actors, deliver Idio or Dummies lectures using the Idiots or Dummies Calculus review book, statistics book, etc. as the text.

And, you could call the University Idiot U or Dummy U.

I know there is a market out there for dummies.

What's funny is as a grad student I used several Dummies books. My advisor only taught one class, an introductory course that I TA'd for. That means not a single class was actually helpful for my research.

Puppets! Everybody loves puppets, and they're cheap because they're non-union.

Puppets! Yes Puppets! Forget about actors.

Faculty and grad students can write the text of the lectures and puppets can deliver them.

'“In less than five years most papers of every note will have a five-minute video,” Mr. Cowen predicts. “People can view it, rewind, rewatch, relisten. You can show it to classes.”'

Some people would consider this a nightmare vision, the final degradation of discourse into the peppiest presentations replacing the actual work of acquiring not only knowledge, but understanding.

Color me unsurprised - there is always a market for those who think watching a five minute video means they can now go out and design a country's road network, at least in their own minds - without learning the language, culture, or history of the society they are so generously 'developing.'


I have over 2000 papers in my Endnote. I'm not a serious researcher. For 99.9% of them I only need a brief overview. And not a single one does exactly what I'm doing, which is the point of research. The point is, there are grades of utility for papers, and the only person who REALLY needs to understand the paper is the author.

This obsession with videos is inane and superficial -- a dumbing-down of knowledge -- MRU is just the latest installment of a trendy fad

Agreed. The state of knowledge has been going to hell ever since they stopped delivering the lectures in Latin.

Am I in the minority here if I'd rather read stuff than watch it on video? When I skim through new blog posts in google reader, I almost always skip the ones with videos embedded in them. It's just more effort to watch a five minute video than to read a few paragraphs of text. The same holds for learning material and academic papers; I can get the information I want much faster and with less effort if I read a text instead of watching a video.

Comments for this post are closed