Sunday, October 28, 2012

Global Classroom, Global Family, Global Community

Last week I read an article about online college classes. One of the true stories related in this article blew me away. I have to share it with you. It says so much about one of the versions of our future that I dream will come to fruition.

A company in the Silicon Valley called Udacity, co-founded by two former Stanford professors, has begun building a catalog of online college-level courses available for free, although not yet recognized for college credit. One of these classes is a college-level Physics 100 class. This basic Physics class is taught through the use of hundreds of short YouTube videos that are embedded in the Udacity website. Over 23,000 students in 125 countries worldwide were enrolled in this class in September 2012. One of these students was an 11-year-old girl in Pakistan named Khadijah Niazi.

Khadijah completed the Physics 100 course on September 17 and was in the middle of taking the final exam when a message appeared on her computer screen telling her that YouTube was no longer available. As it turned out, what rotten luck for her, the Pakistani government had just shut down access to YouTube in an effort to block the offensive anti-Muslim film trailer that had incited protests and violent incidents throughout the world. She and 215 other Pakistanis enrolled in the Physics course immediately lost access.

Khadijah posted a comment on the class discussion board about what had happened. In less than an hour, a classmate in Malaysia began posting detailed descriptions of the test questions in each of the test videos for Khadijah so that she could attempt to continue taking the exam using his descriptions. Meanwhile, a classmate in Portugal tried (unsuccessfully) to create a  way for Khadijah to view the videos without using YouTube. A 12-year-old classmate in England promised to seek help for Khadijah and he begged her not to write anything negative about her government online so that she would not get into trouble.

Later that same night, the Portuguese classmate successfully managed to download all the videos for the final exam to her computer and then uploaded them to an uncensored photo-sharing site where Khadijah could view them. It took the Portuguese woman four hours to download and then upload all the exam videos. The next day Khadijah accessed the videos and completed the final exam with high distinction, becoming the youngest girl ever to complete Udacity’s rigorous Physics 100 course. Khadijah immediately signed up for Udacity’s free online class in Computer Science, and the 12-year-old classmate in England began downloading the lesson videos for her. Khadijah aspires to attend either Oxford or Stanford in the future. I have no doubt that she will do it, too.

I don’t think I need to say more. This story speaks for itself. My gosh, I think that just knowing that this happened will help me sleep better at night. I love it. 

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