American universities are leveraging their prestige by offering on-line courses to students around the world. Is this the way of the future?
It’s more than 11,000 kilometers from Shakargarh, a city in northeastern Pakistan, to the venerated halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top universities in the United States. Twenty-five-year-old Khalid Raza lives in Shakargarh but is taking “The Challenges of Global Poverty,” a course taught by a former adviser to the World Bank and a professor of international economics at MIT.
Recently, while on the bus, he pulled out his laptop and submitted one of his first assignments.
“It was an amazing experience when I was submitting my assignment,” he tells RFE/RL. “I was traveling and my friend was sitting with me. When I submitted my assignment, after some time he asked me a question, ‘What are you doing?’ So I told him the whole story, that I am taking a course from the USA. He was so surprised and shocked.”
The experience — something Raza says he never thought would be possible — doesn’t cost him a single rupee. All he needed was the interest and an Internet connection to reserve his seat in a virtual MIT classroom.
Raza is one of the several million learners worldwide to have discovered “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs. While a number of universities attempted to introduce free online courses in the early 2000s, MOOCs have only begun to catch fire in the last year. Today, the silly-sounding acronym has become a buzz word, and is one of the hottest topics in education.