Be an Ivy League Student for Free!

ByBILL BLAKEMORE

Sept. 22, 2006 — -- You too can soon be taught by great Yale professors, and enjoy that subtle lift of the professorial eyebrow and self-assured body language behind the podium that convey so much more than a dry textbook ever could.

It's all absolutely free and on the Internet -- not some expensive set of tapes or DVDs from a mail-order company.

It's also thanks to digital video -- and a new kind of global university, never mind the diplomas.

Video cameras now whirring in hallowed halls as professors plumb the mysteries of Old Testament heroes, newfangled physics, and ancient principles of political science will make Yale the first elite university to promote online video of its teaching stars showing their stuff.

"We think it may make some of our great teachers even better," said Yale professor Diana E.E. Kleiner, who's directing Yale's new video venture.

"When we ask, 'Can we videotape your lecture' -- a lecture that we tell them may well be seen in China, or some small, developing country -- it forces the professors to think about their lectures even more," Kleiner said to ABC News.

"They may transform how they teach, and their Yale students will then also get an enhanced experience."

"And think of someone in a small town in China for the first time seeing a Western college lecture!" Kleiner said.

"And I often get questions from educators overseas asking advice on how to present courses or how to structure them. Now we will also be able to show them our own Yale professors on the Internet as an example."

Along with "professor-cam" output, Yale will offer course outlines, supporting texts, and even transcripts of the lectures online from its New Haven, Conn., campus -- all available for free starting next year.

Administrators at Yale's nearby sister ivy, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., are impressed.

"It fits our mission. Anything that gets higher education to a wider group of people is a great thing," said Barbara Jan Wilson, Wesleyan's vice president for development.

"We are all nonprofit institutions. None of us pay taxes. Gifts to us are tax free, and we are here to serve the world," Wilson said.

"This is the next logical step -- the expansion of higher education -- given that technology is making education more and more available around the world, and it's a good thing," Wilson said.

A number of educators said to ABC News that it was also excellent PR for any university that had impressive teachers to show off.

"We're not making any money from this," Kleiner said.

Yale's project is underwritten by a $755,000 pilot grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

"We also get exciting new networking among thinkers and educators from this -- and it fits perfectly with how our president has set Yale on a new course of globalizing what we do. We want to share," Kleiner said.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for … those who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to pursue a Yale education at first hand," said Yale President Richard C. Levin.

The online video courses do not count as credit toward a Yale or any other degree, but several professors said to ABC News that was not what was so interesting about this new endeavor.

"This is just how Western universities got started, " said William Hunt, a history professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

"Long before anyone ever worried about granting degrees, there were these circles of students who gathered around charismatic professors -- teachers with something to say and students who wanted to learn, gathering often in the town's marketplace -- even before classrooms were built. Professors like the Peter Abelard in Paris -- passionate not only about ideas, he fell tragically in love with his student, Eloise -- and others in Oxford and Bologna and other European cities," Hunt said to ABC News.

Hunt was an ABC News "Person of the Week" for his pioneering work using the Internet to spread democratic culture among professors and students in Bosnia during the civil war there.

He said that the arrival of the World Wide Web now meant the globe might be developing into such a university.

"Universitas -- the Latin -- in the Middle Ages first meant simply the overall collection of the student-teacher guilds that cropped up in a given town," he said.

"There's a real analogy with all the ferment of learning back then and what the Internet is now giving us on a global scale. The hope then as now is that the good ideas will drive out the bad. It's the risk you take with intellectual freedom."

"Our professors are indeed very passionate about their teaching, and they're excited about a chance to go beyond. You can see their love of learning, and students in Yale or anywhere will gain from that," Kleiner said.

Several educators emphasize that nothing has quite the power of teaching in person, but they also point out that ultimately, the only true learning, whether or not a formal degree is granted, is that of the "autodidact."

An "autodidact" is someone self-taught.

Famous among American autodidacts who never received college degrees -- though they audited college courses -- are preeminent writers Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe, and world-renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.

In the spring, Yale will expand the fare it's offering eager autodidacts from County Homes in Washington state to Coonabarabran, Australia.

Preparing for the arrival of professor-cams in their lectures halls, Yale professors of astronomy, English and psychology are now polishing up their lecture notes and getting ready for primetime.

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