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06/23/2002

Revolutionizing Education

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  The University system here in the United States follows traditions that should perhaps be updated as we move into a globally competitive marketplace in the 21st century.
  Colleges have experimented with Internet classes and distance learning courses that are aired over television channels. I propose that colleges establish a set of professional quality video taped lecture presentations for standard courses.
  The video tapes could be kept in a special section of the university library, duplicated and sold along with textbooks, or even made availible publically through video rental stores such as Blockbuster.
  If distance learning is successful, a video-taped lecture should be equally successful or more so. The students may watch their lectures on a television and arrange to speak to a professor in the role of tutor during the professor's office hours during the semester. Thus, a single professor could be on hand to answer questions for hundreds of students without the need to provide lectures. The highest quality lectures could then be mass duplicated so that the lecture experience is superb.
  I spotted an article in the 1977 volume of the Journal of Mathematical Sciences in my college library that reported a scientific study comparing traditional education in calculus 1 to self-education by means of textbooks without lectures or other resources. Surprisingly, the outcome of the study showed that the students who studied themselves, from textbooks, without ever setting foot in a classroom, not only scored higher on final exams but learned the material in 2/3 the time. If this can be done for Calculus 1, this can surely be done for other subjects.
  Let us support the University system by charging for comprehensive, written, final exams that will give full credit a course whether or not someone has stepped in a classroom. The costs can be adjusted to finance the University operating costs and research efforts. France uses this system - French Universities don't charge for tuition, just for the exams, and their education system is excellent. One who has experience in industry can thus gain from his experience without retraining in fundamentals when he tries to get a degree.
  Another aspect of French education is the fact that courses all over the country of France teach a set course curriculum with no electives or course variation in different universities. The French spend a lot of effort to make the curriculum for someone such as a electrical engineer, for example, be everything which it needs to be for an engineer to walk out of school and go to work with all the skills he needs. French engineers work 35 hours a week and match or exceed the productivity of American engineers who work 50-60 hours a week ; people who work in international companies are aware that the productivity of the American worker is characteristically lower than that of foreign workers. I love America and say this only to bring attention to the fact that America has much room for growth in the productivity of the individual - I hope my observation encourages skeptical people to investigate this matter themselves to see the truth of it ; shame falls on people who would brush aside my remarks out of pride in American labor and never try to verify or disprove that I am telling the truth.
  In summary, we should video tape high quality college lectures for every course where this can be done ; investigate the use of textbooks alone as learning resources for particular courses suited to this kind of approach ; charge for final exams rather than tuition ; and follow France in standardizing college courses nationally to the highest level of quality appropriate for entering the job market, eliminating electives not "essential" to the training effort.
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John Montgomery
 
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