Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Virtual teaching: Some of it may even be off-shored!

The university classroom of the future is in Janet Duck’s dining room on East Chocolate Avenue here.

There is no blackboard and no lectern, and, most glaringly, no students. Dr. Duck teaches her classes in Pennsylvania State University’s master’s program in business administration by sitting for several hours each day in jeans and shag-lined slippers at her dining table, which in soccer mom fashion is cluttered with crayon sketches by her 6-year-old Elijah and shoulder pads for her 9-year-old Olivia’s Halloween costume.

In this homespun setting, the spirited Dr. Duck pecks at a Toshiba laptop and posts lesson content, readings and questions for her two courses on “managing human resources” that touch on topics like performance evaluations and recruitment. The instructional software allows her 54 students to log on from almost anywhere at any time and post remarkably extended responses, the equivalent of a blog about the course. Recently, the class exchanged hard-earned experiences about how managers deal with lackluster workers.

Interesting stuff. Two weeks ago, the Freakonomics blog featured an interview with Jamie Gladfelter, an online economics teacher for students in -- get this! -- six colleges all across the US.

Today's NYTimes also has another story about online tutoring (and other such services) outsourced to India.

TutorVista also stands out for its well-known venture backers, its scale and its ambition. The two-year-old company has raised more than $15 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Silicon Valley Bank. TutorVista employs 760 people, including 600 tutors in India, a teaching staff it plans to double by year-end. Its 52-person technical staff has spent countless hours building the software system to schedule, monitor and connect potentially tens of thousands of tutors with students oceans away.