Has the future of college moved online?

For decades, √©lite educators were preoccupied with “faculty-to-student ratio”: the best classroom was the one where everybody knew your name. Now top schools are broadcast networks. New problems result. How do you foster meaningful discussion in a class containing tens of thousands? How do you grade work? Nagy’s answer—multiple-choice tests, discussion boards, annotation—is something like the standard reply, although there’s lots of debate. At one extreme, edX has been developing a software tool to computer-grade essays, so that students can immediately revise their work, for use at schools that want it. Harvard may not be one of those schools. “I’m concerned about electronic approaches to grading writing,” Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of the university and a former history professor, recently told me. “I think they are ill-equipped to consider irony, elegance, and . . . I don’t know how you get a computer to decide if there’s something there it hasn’t been programmed to see.”

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