Want to get an education from the University of Michigan without the exorbitant tuition rates, the pesky attendance requirements and the unaccommodating class schedules? With the launch of the University’s Digital Scribe, a program that could offer course syllabi, lectures, homework and tests free online, in a few years this might be possible for students around the world. But don’t drop out just yet. The website, also known as dScribe, won’t offer the intangibles that a University education does, but it will wisely open University classrooms to the world with large recruiting and accountability benefits for the University.Modeled after the OpenCourseWare program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was launched in 2002, and designed by the same company as CTools, dScribe will hopefully launch within two to three years. When it does, the website will offer educational resources like lectures, homework and syllabi much like CourseTools does now. Unlike CTools, though, the program will allow anyone who has interest – regardless of whether or not they attend the University – to access the website.
Like the University’s project with Google to digitalize the library, this is another example of the increasing realization that higher education can’t be hoarded away in a stuffy classroom. Education is something that should be shared, not restricted.
By sharing, this technology will be useful to independent learners and University students alike. For curious people not affiliated with the University – whether they are high school students, older people or people in other countries – dScribe will offer a wealth of knowledge. For University students, who may think the program will make sitting through lecture obsolete, the program will offer a better way to get the most of a University education. With lecture video, audio, homework and tests, dScribe promises to be a beefed-up version of CTools that students can turn to if they want to shop around for courses, catch up on missed classes or just discover interesting topics.
The dScribe system will offer more benefits than exposure for the inner workings of a University classroom. If all University professors are encouraged to upload their course content onto the website, the program could act as a motivator for professors to improve their teaching and their fairness. Instead of 20 or 30 college students, the audience becomes thousands of worldwide spectators, who may be able to offer more critical perspectives. This increased access to course information will raise expectations and accountability.
Further, dScribe could be a recruiting tool, providing a glimpse of a University-caliber class to potential students whether they live in Detroit, Seoul or anywhere in between. At MIT this has already proved true, with roughly 40 percent of students claiming that OpenCourseWare “figured significantly” into the decision to attend MIT.
While the project will likely be expensive, considering that MIT’s program cost roughly $24 million to start, the benefits of the program outweigh its costs. While one cannot earn a degree by logging onto a computer and studying French once a day, classroom experience at the University cannot be uploaded either. However, knowledge can and should be.