Esther Duflo, one of the two superstar MIT economists teaching my massive open online course (MOOC) on global poverty, is a fast-talking French woman with whom I could barely keep up — especially when the topic was math.
Her co-teacher Abhijit Banerjee spoke so painfully slowly it was all I could do to keep from checking Facebook as he paused between thoughts during his lectures.
One of the least technologically sophisticated innovations of these free new courses offered by elite universities is also one of the most useful: You can slow down the lectures to .75 times actual speed, listen in actual time, or speed them up by a factor of 1.25 or 1.5.
To think how much more I would have understood, and less time I would have wasted, if my in-person college experience 20 years ago had offered a similar feature.
Alas, while new and thrilling to me, such bells and whistles are hardly the key innovation of these attention-getting MOOCs. The real question is, Are their enthusiasts right that they can truly transform higher education?
After months of writing regularly about MOOCs, I decided to become one of the millions who’ve signed up for these free online courses and — far more exclusively — one of the approximately 10 percent who finish.
About 39,600 signed up for “The Challenges of Global Poverty” and I was among 4,600 who finished. I passed, if not exactly with flying colors, and was emailed a PDF of the “certificate of mastery” to prove it — my very own quasi-credential from MIT.