Feb 20 2013

Why Colleges Should Take UReddit Seriously

Open learning and open teaching highlight a new kind of online education.

Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet,” is a hugely popular social networking site that allows users to create subreddits — message boards focused on specific topics — on just about anything. Some of the most popular subreddits include TodayILearned and Technology, but users, also known as redditors, have also created a section called the University of Reddit.

UReddit leverages the open, crowdsourced platform of Reddit to allow anyone to teach any subject to anyone who is interested. The impact of a platform like this, because it is totally open, is different from that of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are typically taught by traditional professors. In fact, the UReddit source code is open source, which means anyone can submit changes to the code running the site on GitHub.

The idea behind UReddit is that teachers only teach what students want to learn. While a platform like this is not set to deconstruct everything we know about higher education, it should serve as another reminder to colleges that the web is changing education. The idea has caught on. More than 75,000 people have registered with the site, and there are over 100 courses available.

Here is an excerpt from a Reddit blog post highlighting this remarkable subreddit:

Imagine a university where you have the freedom to take whatever class sounds interesting. Imagine being able to choose freely from courses like Hindi 101, Algebraic Topology, 17th Century Italian Fencing, Abelton Live, The Art and Science of Making Great Beer, Neural Basis of Cognition, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, or Starcraft II Strategy. Now imagine not having to worry about attendance, grades, tuition, sharing personal information, or anything else but learning for learning's sake. Teachers and potential teachers: imagine being able to explore any subject that interests you and imagine having complete freedom to plan your curricula and carry out your class.

Read University of reddit - Explore any subject that interests you on the Reddit blog.

As the platform has gained traction online, it has caught the attention of at least one professor. Dr. Philip Bishop of the University of South Florida integrated his fall 2012 section of freshman philosophy into his web-only UReddit class. He used the website to engage his students in discussion, deliver videos and share documents. Check out his syllabus and some of the class discussions here.

As the platform has grown, so has the need for more resources. This prompted Anastas Stoyanovsky and Elliot Volkman, two of the redditors behind the success of UReddit, to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for course management software, live streaming technology and speech-to-text analysis of all video lectures to provide students with searchable transcripts. They call the project Open Compass and make it clear that their goals are very different from sites like Coursera and edX:

Recent years have seen a surge of massively online open courses (MOOCs). However, we feel that they all have at least some subset of the following faults: they are for-profit, which means that moneymaking inevitably comes into the decision-making process; they fail to accurately recreate the classroom experience; focus is generally on content delivery and not necessarily on instructor/TA feedback, on community, or on interaction with one's peers; and only teachers at partner institutions are allowed to generate content.

Read more on the Open Compass Kickstarter page.

The takeaway for traditional colleges is that it is okay, and in the future could be necessary, to engage with new and different learning platforms. Professor Bishop and his colleague K. Edward Renner noted that, while there are drawbacks to UReddit, they plan to use an open method of teaching and learning again:

“One of the downfalls of the University of Reddit is that I can’t track where the students are coming from, how much time they’re looking at the material,” Mr. Bishop said. The University of Reddit also lacks credibility. “The greatest difficulty is getting people to take it seriously,” Mr. Bishop said, noting that the site also offers a course on StarCraft, a popular video game.

Both professors feel, however, that running their courses on a freely available platform provides opportunities for their students on the campus as well as for those participating online. “What my students get is a global perspective on this material,” Mr. Bishop said. And the online students, he added, “are going to get the benefits of the honors students posting and creating content on the bulletin boards.”

Read U. of South Florida Professors Try ‘University of Reddit’ to Put Courses Online on The Chronicle of Higher Education.

UReddit may lack credibility now, but it’s blazing a path that colleges will definitely need to take seriously in the near future.

Join us on April 16, 2013 for a webinar focusing on outside-the-box thinking and innovative technologies that drive colleges’ successful distance learning programs. Learn more and register here.

<p>Credit: Reddit</p>