A Note From the Editors

Dear Readers,

On Oct. 29, 1969 a message traveled over a network connecting a computer at the University of California, Los Angeles to another at the Stanford Research Institute. This network, called ARPANET, which included two additional nodes at other West Coast universities, was the original precursor for what would eventually become the greatest invention of the 20th century: the Internet. More than 40 years later, the Internet has revolutionized far more than modes of communication—it has provided the platform for the virtual worlds and cyberspaces through which we form friendships, travel the world and even receive higher education. The controversy surrounding this last impact—the rise of online education platforms—has probed a global debate about the implications of substituting virtual instruction in place of the traditional lecture setting.

This debate certainly resonates here at Duke, an “elite” university community with one of the largest price tags in America. At the very least, it compels us to reflect, if only for a brief moment, on the material value of our educational journey through Duke. It forces us to question our privilege—is it deserved, and if so, is it fair to share the knowledge contained within our classrooms with communities around the world? More personally, it forces us to consider our individual experiences at this institution—the professors who have transformed the way we think and peers who have challenged the assumptions that guide our daily lives—and if that could ever be replicated online.

In this issue, we feature three stories that add perspective to this larger debate. An in-depth exploration of the opportunities and challenges that the Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) poses for the global community provides a backdrop for the dramatic question posed on our cover: Is College Dead? Katie Zaborsky’s profile of Assistant Professor of English Aarthi Vadde—who believes the best professors share more than objective knowledge and “give you the guidance you need to think the way you want to think”—illuminates one advantage of maintaining face-to-face professor interaction. And what happens if we remove the discussion from the realm of college? The director of an area nonprofit that seeks to encourage high schoolers to “own their education” by developing academic skills and personal well-being sheds yet another light on the important role that “a long-haired, bearded undergraduate” enrolled in a Social Entrepreneurship course can play in combating educational inequality.

The online education revolution is likely here to stay, but the value of a face-to-face relationship between a professor and a pupil appears stronger than ever—at least to us.


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