The creators of new technologies — radio, TV, the Internet — all hold forth their great educational possibilities. And somehow we wind up with “American Idol” and scabrous home videos on YouTube.
Now some of that Internet promise seems close to being realized, thanks in part to that same YouTube.
Lectures and courses by famed professors have long been commercially available on audiotape, but we live in a video world and the venue of choice, the car, makes for a poor lecture hall since it is a tough place to concentrate on matters other than driving — as cell phone users regularly demonstrate.
Now many universities are making available — for free — lectures by their best and most famed professors on YouTube, iPhone and their own Web sites. The subjects run the gamut of higher education — religion, math, politics, law, physics, the classics.
MIT is said to have 1,800 classes online, viewed by about 35 million people. Yale has posted its introductory courses; Johns Hopkins its public health courses. The teachers are aware of their unseen audience because they get e-mails.
The online classes, aside from the fact that you don’t have to be in a classroom at 8 a.m., seem to appeal to the deep-seated American craving for self-improvement. The Washington Post writes that the biggest surprise to MIT has been “that almost half who use the site aren’t students or teachers but people just curious to learn.”
The viewers have access to an educational experience they wouldn’t otherwise have, and the professors get recognition they too wouldn’t otherwise have. For the universities, it’s good publicity to make the lectures available for free, especially since their costs to students have gone up by more than a third in the past five years.
It’s a way to have the college experience without the crushing debt.