On one recent night, the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series put forth a motion on Columbia University’s campus: “More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall Is Obsolete.”

This is heavily contested territory, as both the setting and the style of the debate reflected, The New Yorker reports. Columbia itself is the owner of quite a few nice-looking bricks, but, only last month, the university signalled its intention to start producing online courses. The Intelligence Squared events are inspired by traditional Oxford debates, decided by the votes of the audience, but they’re judged electronically.

The points and counterpoints were streamed and tweeted live, but in tone the evening still evoked the charm of a winsome classroom professor: percussive jazz-fusion tracks piped in before, friendly anecdotes during, and a reception, in lieu of office hours, after.

The four debaters, each one an expert and three of them professors, knew their arguments well—this battle has had many skirmishes. Anant Agarwal, the C.E.O. of edX, an online education platform, opened for the clicks.

He conceded that fewer than five per cent of the students in his online course had successfully passed it, but pointed out that so many people had signed up for the course that those five per cent were still more than he could teach at M.I.T. in forty years.

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