CITRIS and Online Education

CITRIS and Online Education

Exciting! I don’t use that word often, but I have some exciting news. Congratulations to Dr. Camille Crittenden, who has been named to the new position of CITRIS Deputy Director. Camille joined us last year as Director of the Data and Democracy Initiative. Since then she has helped to develop projects and secure funding for a variety of interactive tools to promote civic engagement and produced symposia in data visualization, online education, and the use of video for human rights advocacy. Her success in bringing together researchers, advocacy groups, public agencies, and industry leaders within these multi-disciplinary areas is just part of what makes her the perfect choice to help lead CITRIS in continuing to create collaborations that lead to breakthroughs for society.

And speaking of breakthroughs, it seems like online education has been just about to turn everything on its head for a long time now. I made an “online” course (using video conferencing!) for the University of Wisconsin–Madison nearly 10 years ago.  It was widely distributed and considered a success, but it hardly constituted the paradigm shift some educators were predicting.  And long before that, people have sworn that one technology or another would replace the traditional classroom and lab: film, television, the PC. All of them threatened to replace the living, breathing, lecturing professor with some recorded facsimile.  Yet here we are, pretty much teaching the same way it was done centuries ago.

Honestly, though, the current fascination with online education feels different. For one, it comes at a time when people are desperate to find ways to address higher education’s soaring price. According to Bloomberg News, the cost of a college education has increased by 1,200 percent since 1978. For comparison, medical expenses have increased by only 600 percent. Furthermore, this time the technology in question is not a one-way feed, but a multidimensional network that can not only deliver lessons and lectures but also create an online community, analyze responses, give real-time feedback, and customize course delivery to best fit a student’s needs and learning style.

>> Read the article on University 2.0

This is a subject of special interest to us here at CITRIS. For one thing, most of us are educators with an appreciation for innovations that could amplify our reach and efficiency. And many of us are also researchers looking for ways to apply IT to address societal scale problems, including disparities in access to educational opportunities.

On the other hand, many of us are engineers. We make things. And that is what we teach our students to do. Yes, our new Invention Lab at the CITRIS headquarters in Berkeley has tools that will allow us to extend its reach to other campuses and beyond, and we are proud of those, but it is essentially a place where students work together to design real things in the real three-dimensional world. The Foundry that we created, led by Patrick Scaglia, Steve DeMello, Peter Minor, and Alic Chen is another example; the experience people get there could never be replicated online. And of course, the important teaching that occurs in the Marvell Nanolab is also completely dependent on students being present in that extraordinary place. I have the pleasure of teaching Advanced Device Design and Digital Fabrication this semester with Björn Hartmann, and the prototypes our students are building are remarkable physical objects, not just ideas. And that’s what our Invention Lab in rooms 141 and 143 is all about.

On the wall down there we have a quote by Confucius, the fifth-century Chinese philosopher and teacher that summarizes my feeling well: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Here at CITRIS our research includes a lot of theory and observation and calculation, but what I am most proud of is what we actually do. And what we help students learn, by doing themselves.

Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
Paul K. Wright
Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley