We are familiar with the archetypal university classes seen in Hollywood movies. Bright students fill grand lecture halls, eagerly listening to their esteemed, dynamic professors. These on-screen professors are brilliant scholars who engage students, but, unfortunately, do not represent many university lecturers.

Photo: David Ausserhofer

The quality of the education we receive depends on who teaches us. Students pay tuition to learn from leading professors, experts in their fields. But at universities students are often taught by graduate students serving as Teaching Assistants (TAs), particularly in introductory courses.

According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the number of graduate students working as TAs has more than doubled since 1975. At American universities, TAs teach thousands of classes. AFT data does not reflect the totality of classes led by TAs; it only accounts for sections in which TAs are the listed teachers. But graduate employees serve as teacher’s aides and share teaching responsibilities. Between 16%-32% of undergraduate sections at public universities are estimated to be taught by TAs.

MOOCs ensure that professors, not TAs, teach classes. When registering for MOOCs, students know that they will be taught by experts who have dedicated hours of effort to recording lectures of the highest academic quality.

by Anna Meixler

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Malala Yousafzai, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani student made headlines when she was injured by the Taliban for pursuing her studies. She has since grown increasingly vocal in her fight for female education in Pakistan, and universal access to learning for children worldwide.

Photo: DFID – UK Department for International
Development, via Wikimedia Commons

This month, a young, clear voice reminds us of the global need for education. Recent years have brought incredible educational progress in many areas of the world. Teachers, supplies, and funding have been dedicated to building more schools. More children, women, and students in developing countries are provided with ways to learn. Not only are there more formal schools; recent years have also brought online universities and lectures, and, most recently, MOOCs. But access to learning remains far from universal.

Last week, Malala Yousafzai marked her 16th birthday with a powerful speech that addressed everyone: from her native Pakistanis to us at iversity in Germany. At the U.N.’s Youth Assembly, Malala, who was shot in the head on her way home from school by Taliban, demanded female education in Pakistan, and for all children worldwide. With 57 million children out of school in 2011, according to UNESCO and Save the Children data, 3 million gained educational access in the past three years. But the numbers of students out of class remain staggering, energizing iversity to produce MOOCs that reach the masses.

MOOCs are not an answer for every educational shortcoming. In developing countries and areas of conflict, many lack internet access, and women may be restricted from using computers at internet cafes. But MOOCs expand higher education, widening access and eliminating costs. They do not discriminate based on age, location, or gender, providing all with the opportunity to learn and to grow. Consider how MOOCs offer Pakistani girls access to top faculty and high-quality courses. Malala’s words push for universal education, a revolution that MOOCs ensure will include those in conflict zones.

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