My dad is 57 years young and he is still attending university lectures – UC Berkeley undergraduate lectures to be exact – all from the comfort of his living room. After returning home for winter break this past December, he excitedly showed me his new treasure-trove of knowledge: webcasted lectures from UC Berkeley. My dad and I have actually attended the same exact classes, but there is one big difference: his education doesn’t cost him over $20,000 a year.
Most major universities have adopted webcasting programs for many courses held at their schools. Many professors have recognized the value in webcasting as a way to make education accessible to anyone who has a computer and a thirst for knowledge. According to UCLA Today, UCLA Biology Professor Jay Phelan said that he’s received over 1,000 emails in two years “from retirees, from students at community colleges or people who are very poor but dream of being at UCLA. I’ve even had UCLA freshmen in my class tell me they watched all my lectures while they were in high school.”
One of my favorite classes at UC Berkeley was an introductory physics course taught by Professor Richard Muller. He would often address his fans from around the world during his lectures and answer questions he had received in emails. “There’s an incredible thirst for this knowledge. The emails I get are typically, ‘Thank you so much for doing this. I could never go to the university,’ or ‘I couldn’t get in,’ or ‘I had to go to work,’ or ‘We don’t have a university like that,’ or whatever. ‘And here you are letting me in to the education that students are getting at the University of California…I am so grateful.’” Professor Muller has received hundreds of letters from all 50 states and over 80 countries, including an Estonian high school student who pursued a physics degree, a carpenter who returned to college, and a soldier in Iraq who would “listen to [his] lectures in one ear, and the HumVee system in the other.”
A 2007 technology white paper by Ashley Deal lists many other benefits of webcasting in addition to the creation of a global classroom. While many critics believe that making webcasts available would decrease class attendance, “studies indicate that the availability of lecture webcasts has only a slight impact, if any on class attendance rates.” Students use webcasts if they have to miss a class due to other obligations or when studying for exams, thus improving the educational experience by reducing stress and providing an additional study resource. Interestingly, professors also learn from webcasts. By watching their own lectures, they are able to self-evaluate, learn from mistakes, and improve future lectures. To read the full paper, you can find it here!
Unfortunately, budget cuts to the university education system have resulted in a significant decrease in the number of webcasted courses offered across universities. If webcasting programs could find some way to make money while still making the university educations affordable and accessible to all, well, you would really have something there!