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A New Twist in Online Learning at Stanford

September 1, 2014

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Media Coverage

What I learned from teaching Econ 1 on the Web to students who included one in Botswana.


Stanford Economist John B. Taylor wrote this essay for the Wall Street Journal about his experience creating an all online version of his course Econ 1 that was offered to Stanford students during Summer Session 2014 for credit. Professor Taylor also used some of the digital learning materials from his Stanford course to generate a MOOC that was offered free to the public.  The following is an excerpt:

We kept enrollment relatively small. The for-credit track had about 25 students, most of them matriculated Stanford students who were at home or traveling for the summer. Some, however, were incoming freshman and students from other colleges that agreed to count the Stanford credits. The open track, on the other hand, had about 15,000 students from more than 150 countries, most from developing countries in Asia and Africa.

Students' grades in the for-credit online course were as good as in the course I teach on campus. The feedback was positive: Their numerical course evaluation score was better than for on-campus version—and only one person dropped out after starting. Econ 1v allowed Stanford students to learn while traveling abroad or doing summer internships. One student was interning at a local high-tech firm, and others were traveling abroad. One took the final exam in India, another in Botswana and another in Singapore.
Econ 1v gave incoming freshmen a chance to get a head start on requirements. More online-only courses would continue to increase student flexibility. And perhaps most intriguing for the future, this approach provides these same advantages to students from other colleges and universities who want to take an online Stanford course and get credit.
On top of all this is the byproduct of a free opportunity for people around the world to explore economics and understand the benefits of free markets.  
All this has led many to worry: Would more online learning disrupt higher-education? Perhaps. But my experience—starting small, dovetailing with rather than replacing existing structures, and collaborating with people in other fields—has been about creating new ways of teaching and learning, building on, rather than disrupting, existing ones. Most rewarding were the expressions of thanks to "Professor Taylor and the Stanford teaching team" from students in the poorest countries in the world, all eager to learn and grateful for the opportunity.