Teachers as Internet celebrities?

MTSG_H8From the School of Public Health’s Mind the Science Gap (summer edition):

It is a truth universally acknowledged that lazy (read: efficient) students will find ways to use new technologies to get their homework done faster, and certainly this has been observed with the World Wide Web. Curiously, students have also been observed using the internet for educational purposes unrelated to their coursework or even beyond the parameters of their syllabi. Even more shocking has been the discovery that non-students are using the internet for educational purposes as well, as though learning were a leisure activity.

In this brave new world, Duolingo, a language-tutoring website, boasts millions of users, Coursera is able to report a profit despite offering online courses for the price of free, and the YouTube has taken it upon themselves to devote an entire division of their company to the growing market of educational videos.  Rest assured that these trends have not escaped the notice of some very clever people (and especially prescient department chairs), who have realized that the future of education – as well as science and public health communication – is on the web. The consequence of this epiphany is my summer research project: we know that the Internet is a powerful tool, but how do we make educational content that people actually care about?


Though many people think of the Internet as a sort of deplorable wasteland of cat pictures and Game of Thrones references (I’m looking at you, reddit and tumblr), there are a number of tractable efforts in play to wield the web as a tool for education and outreach. The aforementioned Duolingo and Coursera are excellent examples, as are the well-known Kahn Academy, CodeAcademy, and a myriad of “edutainment” Youtube channels.

What bewilders me most is the sheer volume of interest that these outlets receive. I mean, there are literally millions of viewers subscribing to YouTube channels devoted to every academic subject imaginable, from science and literature, to mathematics and history. And there are a million users anon who are brushing up on their Spanish with Duolingo, taking refresher courses in calculus with the Kahn, or learning biostatistics on Coursera.

Clearly, there is an interest being served here, and if we can understand what draws people to these kinds of resources, then we can improve the dialogue between academics and non-academics, and potentially even use these avenues to disseminate public health information.

Naturally, this is easier said than done.

Read the complete post, and comment here.

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