Share Button

We have plenty to say elsewhere in the magazine about the conclusion—a very satisfying one, too—of Penn’s Making History campaign. Here I just want to add my thanks to all the alumni and friends who contributed, whose generosity will help provide us with a continuing stream of student achievements, faculty breakthroughs, and campus building-projects to write about!

While they may differ somewhat in emphasis, fundraising campaigns in higher education almost always revolve around those elements. Which makes sense, since they constitute the three-legged stool of education: people to learn, people to teach, and places to bring them together. Despite technological advances—notepads giving way to laptops—that pattern of instruction has held true, more or less, since Franklin’s day.

But maybe for not much longer.

As associate editor Trey Popp writes in “MOOC U.,” the recent and rapid rise of massive open online courses is at least making that stool wobble a bit. Tens of thousands of students have signed up for these so far mostly non-credit courses over the Internet, whose subject matter ranges as widely as the students’ geographic locations from “Kansas to Kazakhstan.”

Penn is working with a company called Coursera, through which the University first agreed to provide courses, and more recently joined as an equity partner [“From College Hall,” Nov|Dec]. Trey spoke with Provost Vincent Price, Penn’s chief academic officer, and with Law Professor Edward B. Rock, senior advisor for open course initiatives at the University.

They laid out the rationale behind the relationship with Coursera and the broader implications of MOOCs for higher education. Elite institutions will probably feel limited impacts, at least in the shortish-term, but for community colleges and cash-strapped public universities the effects are likely to be extensive—and not all good, necessarily, the issue being whether the technology is used to enrich instruction, or as a cheap substitute for it.

Trey also joined in as a student, taking Associate Professor of Classical Studies Peter Struck’s MOOC in Greek and Roman Mythology—squeezing in lectures between work and parenting duties by ramping up the playback speed on his browser—and a calculus course with Andrea Mitchell University Professor Robert Ghrist.

Regarding the likelihood that MOOCs might threaten the viability of the residential model of higher education, Wharton’s Karl Ulrich, who teaches a MOOC on design, pointed out that college is more than classes, and that the relationships formed through extended physical presence on a particular campus may mean as much or more to students’ futures.

In some cases the classroom and personal spheres overlap—as has been the experience of many former students of Nora Magid. Participation in the legendary nonfiction-writing class she taught at Penn from 1970 to 1991 led to numerous friendships, many professional connections, and maybe at least one marriage. A decade ago, it also led to the creation of the Nora Magid Mentorship Prize, which awards a stipend of $1,000—and, more importantly, the mentoring services of the “Nora-ites”—to a Penn senior interested in pursuing a career in journalism. Freelancer Alyson Krueger C’07 tells the tale in “The Nora Network.”

Also in this issue, in “Constructing a New Kahn,” senior editor Samuel Hughes unravels the four-decades-long journey of Louis Kahn’s Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, on Roosevelt Island in the East River. The project survived Kahn’s untimely death shortly after completing the design; the 1970s economic collapse of New York, which put the project on hold; competing plans for using the site; and conflicting interpretations of Kahn’s intentions, before opening to near-universal acclaim in October.

Just days later, it was slammed by Hurricane Sandy—and survived that, too.

—John Prendergast C’80

Share Button

    Leave a Reply