May 4, 2015

More thoughts on artificial intelligence and human learning

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ex machina 2

Several events have prompted this reflection.

Man shoots computer

I have a new hero and his name is Lucas Hinch. Frustrated with his Dell PC, he took it into the street in Colorado Springs and shot it eight times. The police were summoned and later in court his firearm was confiscated, but Hinch is reported as saying: ‘It was worth it. It was glorious. Angels sung on high.’

Ex Machina

I have just seen a very good new movie, Ex Machina, which is about Nathan, a carefully selected young company program developer charged with Turing-testing, i,.e. evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of an alluring female robot called AVA. AVA features artificial intelligence developed mainly by structuring search engine data and is designed by Caleb, the reclusive CEO of a large Internet search engine company.

Now this is a movie, and a very good one, so it has to be entertaining and in movies, anything is possible, but it is worth seeing because of the intelligent script and in particular the interaction between both Nathan and the robot, and between Nathan and Caleb, where they discuss the nature and the (possible) potential of AI.

Thoughts prompted by these events

1. Dream on, AI enthusiasts

The first thought is how far we still have to go from what is possible in the present to what the expectations of AI are in the future. AI is nowhere close to achieving the kinds of thinking and emotional intelligence demonstrated in Ex Machina. (I am sure there will be someone who will want to correct me on this – go for it.)

Although we are increasingly dependent on computers, they are still frustratingly incapable of doing what seem to humans to be the simplest procedures. Take corporate voice messaging, for instance. Now if I had a gun, and I could find a physical embodiment of telephone companies’ voice messaging, I would take it out into the street and shoot it. The only reason I am calling a company is because I can’t get standard information or a resolution to a matter through the corporate web site. If the best AI can do (and these companies have the money and motivation to have the best) is to provide set answers to a limited number of predetermined questions that rarely if ever address the reason you have called, then we are not just at the pre-human stage of AI development but at the stage of creating primordial bacteria (which is no mean feat in itself).

Have you ever tried Siri? It is pathetically limited (although the voice is very nice). However, if anyone is stupid enough to fall in love with Siri, as in the movie ‘Her’ (one of the most sentimentally awful movies I have ever seen) then they really do deserve whatever comes to them.

2. Current models of AI are just wrong

Since AI tends to be developed by computer scientists, they tend to use models of the brain based on how computers or computer networks work (since of course it will be a computer that has to operate the AI). Ex Machina got it right though in suggesting that a completely different kind of hardware (what Caleb called wetware) will be needed that better matches the way that human brains actually work. Thus the basis of AI needs to reflect the biological rather than mechanical foundation of human behaviour.

However, I am not convinced that Caleb’s software solution of modelling human behaviour through the analysis of big data captured through search engines will work, either, because despite the wide range of uses of search engines by humans, they still nowhere near capture the full range of human behaviour. People do behave differently on the Internet than in other areas of their lives. While hundreds of thousands play violent games or use online pornography, for example, this is not reflected (despite impressions given by the media) in terms of actual behaviour in real world contexts. Most humans have the ability to separate reality from fantasy, and online behaviour is different from behaviour in other contexts.

3. Do we want robots to be like people?

This is the question that really needs to be answered, and my view is that the answer is unequivocally ‘no.’ Several excellent movies such as Space Odyssey 2001 as well as Ex Machina indirectly raise this question, and the answer is always negative for the future of human life. There are aspects of human life that are better done by machines, such as coal mining, booking airline tickets or even housework, but decision-making and ethics for example are best left to admittedly imperfect human beings, because decision-making and ethics need to privilege the admittedly self-interests of humans, not those of robots (or more likely, large corporations).

One reason of course that there is so much interest in AI is that corporations want to reduce the costs of human workers by replacing them with machines. There comes a point though where naked free market interests work against the general human condition. It is no coincidence that the growing gap between the richest 1% and the rest of the world parallels the increased use of automation. The benefits of automation are not shared equally.

When we come to education in particular, the main cost is that of teachers and instructors. But learning is not only a complex activity where only a relatively minor part of the process can be effectively automated, it is an intensely human activity, that benefits enormously from personal relationships and social interaction.

4. What should we use AI for?

We need to treat technology as tools, not autonomous systems. Technology is a means to an end and the end must be determined by human beings. If we take education as an example, technology can be immensely helpful in supporting teachers, learners and learning. It can be used to make teaching more efficient, so long as it does not attempt to replace the relational aspects of teaching and learning. What it should not be used for is to replace the human element in teaching, or even, in the long term, learners themselves.

5. The need to establish rules and guidelines for AI

Although we are already seeing some of the social consequences of an unequal distribution of wealth resulting from the automation of human activities, we have been lucky so far in a sense that AI has proved to be so difficult to extend beyond very simple procedures. We have not yet had to face some of the ethical, social and security issues that will arise if AI becomes more successfully developed. (The first area is likely to be in transportation, with the automation of driving.)

However, as many science fiction writers have predicted, we are probably getting to the point where we now need some controls, rules, guidelines and procedures that will help determine the limits of AI in general, and computer-based learning in particular, in terms of where and how AI-controlled automation should be applied. In education, this means using computers to support teachers in the design and delivery of teaching and learning, in assessment of ‘routine’ and predictable forms of learning, and in indicating students at risk, and possible causes and actions to be taken. In all cases, though, these applications of computing need to be under the direct control of either learners or teachers, or increasingly by both.

What I foresee is something like a Charter of Rights for humans in a world where AI is not only prevalent but also powerful (but then I’m an incorrigeable optimist).

In the meantime, go and see Ex Machina, and enjoy it as a very interesting movie, even if some of the assumptions about the future are likely to be wrong – and some horribly right. For some interesting discussion of the morality of AVA, go to: IMDb

References

Rad, C. (2015) MAN SHOOTS DELL COMPUTER 8 TIMES AFTER GETTING BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH IGN, 22 April

Problems with the use of images in open textbooks

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If you have downloaded my open textbook, ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ in pdf or Modi format for the iPad or Kobo, you may have noticed that many of the images I have liberally used throughout the book do not fit on the page or have become separated from their ‘frame’ (the green and black lines before and after the images), in the downloaded versions.

The problem

Here is an example (I have reduced the size of both images):

This is the html version that you would read by going to the book site (http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/)

Original html web version

Original html web version

Nice, isn’t it? And this is how it appears in the pdf version:

pdf version

pdf version

You can see the image has been removed from the frame and dropped into the next page.

The same kind of thing happens in the iPad and Kindle versions, only worse, because the screen size is smaller. I realise this is not a unique problem and one faced every day when moving materials to mobile devices.

The reason

This happens primarily because the html version read on computer screens or laptops scrolls, while the pdf and mobile device versions are paginated. What fits nicely on a scrolled screen does not always fit a paginated version because the image is too large to fit within the remaining page space, so it is bounced to the next page. This is made worse by my having artistically framed the images. The frames are independent objects from the image though so do not move with the image when it is ‘bounced’.

Solutions

OK, I should have known this would happen, but I didn’t until after I finished the book. (This is one form of experiential learning that I don’t recommend). One way to minimise (but not eliminate by any means) the problem would be to avoid putting in frames for the images (the frames were suggested by a highly professional graphic designer) and keeping the in-text images much smaller. However, reducing the size of the images is not always desirable, especially with complex or detailed images.

In the end, it is a software problem needing a software solution, such as the ability to integrate frames around images, and to resize images to fit the pagination or to move paragraphs around the image until it fits the page.

The dilemma

So what should I do now? The html version works beautifully, but even reducing the size of graphics and moving them won’t solve the problem for the exported versions, because each exported version is different in the way it handles the lay-out. I could go through the whole book and remove the frames but there are over 100 images and graphics throughout the book.

Should I leave the frames? I can’t leave them on the html version and remove them from the other versions because the other versions are direct and complete exports of the html version. I also can’t edit the pdf version independently of the html version without creating a whole shadow site.

Is there a way to ‘fit’ frames to images in WordPress? if there is please let me know!

Does it matter?

This is where I really need your advice. OK, so it isn’t perfect as a pdf or on an iPad, but is it good enough? My wife says I’m crazy to worry about this (‘It’s the content that matters’), and my best friend accused me of being a compulsive-obsessive personality (that’s what good friends are there for, to tell you the truth), and he said if people don’t like it, they can use their laptop, but my wife and my friend are not the audience for this book. You are, and if this is a problem for you, I need to know.

So what’s your advice on this? Don’t worry about it, or find a solution, and if so, what?

Defining skills for a digital age

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Video games designer 2

ACT (2105) Unpacking “Career Readiness” Iowa City IA: Act Inc.

ACT Inc, the organisation that designs and administers the most widely used high school standardised tests in the USA, has just published a short but interesting document. In it, they state:

In the report Broadening the Definition of College and Career Readiness: A Holistic Approach (Mattern et al. 2014), ACT has begun to describe the skills needed for postsecondary success through a new model of learning readiness that encompasses at least four overlapping but distinct domains:

  • Core Academic Skills in English language arts, mathematics, and science
  • Cross-Cutting Capabilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and information and technology skills
  • Behavioral Skills related to success in education and the workforce, such as being dependable, working effectively with others, adapting, and managing stress
  • Navigation Skills, or skills needed to successfully negotiate educational and career pathways, such as self-knowledge of abilities, likes and dislikes, and values; knowledge about majors, occupations, and future career opportunities; and the variety of skills related to educational and career exploration, planning, and decision making needed for long-term success in the workplace

The documents also states:

Readiness assessments that focus solely on academic proficiency risk ignoring what education, business, and industry leaders have long recognized: behavioral and career skills and crosscutting capabilities are no less essential to success in the 21st-century college classroom and the workplace. The “life skills” framework suggested by this new model supports this holistic picture of readiness.

Comment

It is good that ACT is raising the issue of the skills needed by learners and graduates in today’s society. Identifying the most important skills is an essential first step to ensuring that they get taught.

However, the paper raises more questions than it answers, such as:

  • is this the ‘right’ list of skills? For instance, shouldn’t knowledge management and digital literacy (which is not the same as IT skills) be in there somewhere? And who should decide what skills are important?
  • is it the job of colleges and universities to teach these broader skills? I believe it is, but that raises further questions, such as:
    • do instructors currently have the knowledge, time and inclination to develop these new skills?
    • do these new skills replace or are they an addition to what schools and colleges are already teaching? What are the trade-offs that will be necessary if more focus is given to these skills?
  • what teaching methods are most likely to enable students to develop these skills?
  • what is the best way to measure or assess such skills?

The last question is particularly important to ask, because I suspect ACT is looking to build standardised, computer assessments for such skills, but this may not be the most appropriate form of assessment.

My online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age, attempts to address at least some of these issues, but I don’t pretend that I have all the answers. It is good though that ACT is raising the issue of identifying and assessing these ‘soft’ skills, even if there may be a commercial motive behind their research.

Reference

Mattern, Krista, et al. (2014) Broadening the Definition of College and Career Readiness: A Holistic Approach. Iowa City, IA: ACT Research Report Series 2014-5

Book ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ now ready and available

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image

Click image to view the book

IT’S OPEN! IT’S FREE! IT’S ONLINE! IT’S READY!

For the last two weeks I have been frantically re-editing my online open textbook, ‘Teaching in a Digital Age.’ I am relieved and pleased to announce that the book is now finished – or at least as finished as an open online textbook will be, as it’s possible, indeed essential, to continue to add or remove materials to keep it up to date.

So if you get the chance, log in to the book, have a look at it, and, if you can find the time, send me your comments.

The target group

The audience I am reaching out for are primarily:

  • college and university instructors anxious to improve their teaching or facing major challenges in the classroom,
  • school teachers, particularly in secondary or high schools anxious to ensure their students are ready for either post-secondary education or a rapidly changing and highly uncertain job market.

Different ways to use the book

The book will download in epub, pdf, and mobi versions, so it can be printed out or the whole book can be downloaded, for straightforward reading.

It can also be downloaded in xHTML, Pressbooks XML, or WordPress XML from the home page, so it can be edited or adapted for secondary use.

The book is written on the assumption that most reading will be done in chunks of one hour or less, so each section of a chapter can be completed in one hour at the maximum (some sections will be much shorter).

There are many different ways this book could be used. Here are some suggestions:

  • straight read through (over several days) for personal use by individual teachers and instructors: this is probably the least likely use, but there is a logical sequence and a continuous, coherent argument that builds up through the book;
  • specific chapters or sections that are useful or timely can be read by individual faculty or teachers, more as a reference or for a specific purpose, and other sections or chapters can then be read as needed;
  • teachers or instructors can do the activities that follow most sections, mainly for personal reflection, but also to compare their responses to either mine or other readers;
  • the book can be used, whole or in parts, as the core reading for an online course (or part of a course) on how to teach in a digital age. The activities I have suggested can be included, or, if you use one of the editing formats (XHTML, Pressbooks XML or WordPress XML), you can replace the activities with your own;
  • use the book, in parts or as a whole, as preparation for faculty development or pro-d workshops
  • take sections or parts of the book, and combine them with your own materials, for either an online course or for faculty development/pro-d.

See About the book – and how to use it, for more details

Content

I will be doing 13 separate posts summarising each chapter, but in the meantime:

Chapter 1 Fundamental change in Education

This sets the stage for the rest of the book. Chapter 1 looks at the key changes that are forcing teachers and instructors to reconsider their goals and methods of teaching, In particular it identifies the key knowledge and skills that students need in a digital age, and how technology is changing everything, including the context in which we teach.

Chapters 2-5: Epistemology and teaching methods

These chapters address the more theoretical and methodological aspects of teaching and learning in a digital age. Chapter 2 covers different views on the nature of knowledge and how these understandings of knowledge influence theories of learning and methods of teaching. Chapters 3 and 4 analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of teaching ranging from solely campus-based through blended to fully online. Chapter 5 looks at the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. These chapters form a theoretical foundation for what follows.

Chapters 6-8: Media and technology

The focus in these three chapters is on how to choose and use different media and technologies in teaching, with a particular focus on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media. Chapter 8 ends with a set of criteria and a model for making decisions about different media and technologies for teaching.

Chapters 9-10: Modes of delivery and open education

Chapter 9 addresses the question of how to determine what mode of delivery should be used: campus-based; blended or fully online. Chapter 10 examines the potentially disruptive implications of recent developments in open content, open publishing, open data and open research. This chapter above all is a messenger of the radical changes to come to education.

Chapter 11 and Appendix 1: Ensuring quality in teaching in a digital age

These take two different but complementary approaches to the issue of ensuring high quality teaching in a digital age. Chapter 11 suggests nine pragmatic steps for designing and delivering quality teaching in a highly digital teaching context. Appendix 1 looks at all the necessary components of a high quality learning environment.

Chapter 12: Institutional support

This chapter very briefly examines the policy and operational support needed from schools, colleges and universities to ensure relevant and high quality teaching in a digital age.

Scenarios

There are ten ‘what if’ scenarios scattered throughout the book. These are semi-fictional, semi-, because in almost every case, the scenario is based on an actual example. However, I have sometimes combined one or more cases, or extended or broadened the original case. The purpose of the scenarios is to stimulate imagination and thinking about both our current ‘blocks’ or barriers to change, and the real and exciting possibilities of teaching in the future.

Other features

Each chapter ends with a set of key ‘takeaways’ from the chapter, and a complete set of references. There is also a comprehensive bibliography that collects together all the references from the chapters. Most chapter sections end with an activity.

There are also several appendices providing more detailed information to support each chapter, and some sample answers to the questions posed in the activities.

 

Over to you

As I said, an online, open textbook is dynamic, not static. Changes are possible at any time. Your feedback then will be of immense value, not just to me, but also to future readers.

What have I missed? Is the structure clear? Is it appropriate for the target audience? Is it useful to you, and if so, in what ways?

Above all, can you help me to reach beyond instructional designers, and enthusiasts for online learning, into the main body of instructors and teachers? Can you pass the word on? What would you recommend I do to get to the target audience?

As always, your help will be so much appreciated. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the book.

Conference: Distance teaching and learning, Wisconsin, 2015

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The Monona Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin

The Monona Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin

What: The University of Wisconsin Distance Teaching and Learning Conference

You will discover innovative ways to teach and support online learners. Learn best strategies, practices, and solutions. Connect with experts in online education and engage with e-learning colleagues from around the world.

When: August 11-13, 2015

Where: Monona Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin

Who: The conference is organized and sponsored by UW-Madison Continuing Studies’ Distance Education Professional Development (DEPD) team.

Keynote speakers

  • Marc Rosenberg
  • Mark Prensky
  • Sharon Derry and Susan Singer
  • Simone Conceçãio
  • Michael G. Moore

How:

  • Registration opens May 4
  • To register, click here

How much:

The conference fee will be US$495 for registration by July 31, $545 afterwards. reduced fee for students, groups

Online Fundamentals Conference Certificate

Designed for those new to online learning, this blended certificate entails pre- and post-conference work plus onsite conference activities. Get both the conference and certificate for only $850 ($1,200 value).

Comment

This has been the largest and longest running (30 years) distance education conference in the USA. It’s good to see Michael Moore is speaking. We worked together many years ago at the Open University in Britain and he has been a pioneer of distance education in the USA.

CNIE 2015 conference in Winnepeg

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The Red River, near the Forks, Winnipeg (my own photo)

The Red River, near the Forks, Winnipeg (my own photo)

What: The CAUCE-CNIE Conference: Beyond Diversity: Learning and Working in an Inclusive World

Conference Themes:

  • dialoguing on human rights
  • creating access to education
  • embracing inclusivity.

When: May 27-29, 2015

Where: Inn at the Forks, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Winnipeg = Muddy Water in Cree.)

Who: 

  • Canadian Association of University Continuing Education
  • Canadian Network for Innovation in Education
  • University of Manitoba

Keynote speakers

  • Ovide Mercredi
  • Stephen Murgatroyd

How: 

  • Closing date for Early Bird registration: March 31 (Tuesday) – so get cracking!
  • To register, click here

How much:

The conference fee will be $650 for registration by March 31, $700 afterwards. Conference fee includes all meals, Gala dinner and dance

Comment

This is the first time I believe that CAUCE and CNIE have organised a joint conference.

An interesting and topical theme, given recent events in Winnipeg, and for a long time across Canada, regarding violence against aboriginal women.

I would like to have attended but I will be on holiday in Europe at this time.

Adult learners, mobile phones and online learning

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The McArthur River Mine, Northern Saskatchewan

The McArthur River Mine, Northern Saskatchewan

Sometimes, distance education really is distant. Damian Boyle is a workplace instructor from Northlands College who works with itinerant workers at the remote McArthur River mine in Northern Saskatchewan. He has noticed a steep drop in the voluntary drop-in for adult education at the mine following recent local access to Wi-Fi and the Internet. He asked me a serious of questions I can’t answer. Here are his questions:

With regards to some aspects of m-learning by adults that are informal, unstructured, and perhaps accidental rather than purposeful: I work as a Workplace Educator for Northlands College, and provide learning services to about 1000 itinerant Workers at Cameco’s McArthur River Mine Site, in northern Saskatchewan. This is a fly-in site, with camp accommodations and no other community or services.  (Further details about my work are posted on EduNorth).

I am seeking ways to drive engagement by Workers with the Workplace Education Program. To that end I am here requesting your assistance for direction to resources, organizations, and individuals that may be able to provide some suggestions about how to best do this.

Since July of 2013 I have observed a steep decline in drop-in engagement with the Workplace Education Program on un-paid time (voluntary participation).  This decline in voluntary participation has been coincidental with the provision of cellular service and Wi-Fi internet access at the Site, plus the now ubiquitous (~95%) adoption of smartphones by workers.  Has your organization experienced similar trends?

1.    With regards to adult learners, what are the statistical trends for engagement with services for assistance with developing:  Literacy, Numeracy, Workplace Essential Skills, and Adult Basic Education?

2.    What percentage of those adult Learners seeking assistance with developing Literacy, Numeracy, Workplace Essential Skills, and Adult Basic Education, own or regularly use a Smartphone or Tablet?

Any direction, suggestions, recommendations, statistics, or thoughts that you could share with me about any of this would be most appreciated. Thanks very much for your assistance with this.

 I’m wondering if anyone can help, either by posting a comment to this post or sending Damian an e-mail at boyle.damian@northlandscollege.sk.ca.

 

Conference: mobile learning – all at sea!

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Splendour of the Seas

Splendour of the Seas

What: The mobile learning voyage: From small ripples to massive open waters

This event brings together some of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field of mLearning.  It also appeals to a wide range of audiences who are interested in enhancing learning with designing content and developing systems for mobile devices and wireless networks and all others with an interest in mobile and ambient learning. Benefits:

  • mLearn 2015 will provide researchers, academics, industry practitioners and commercial vendors all the benefits of participating in one of the premier international conferences and being exposed to the exciting and rapidly growing field of mobile and contextual learning.
  • mLearn offers unrivalled opportunities for networking with key academic and commercial contacts.
  •  mLearn is the only conference endorsed by the International Association for Mobile Learning (IAmLearn), a membership association which promotes excellence in research, development and application of mobile and contextual learning.

When: 17-24 October, 2015

Where: On a cruise ship (the Splendour of the Seas) departing from Venice, Italy

Who: The International Association for Mobile Learning (IAmLearn) (www.iamlearn.org) is the custodian of the mLearn conference series. The main institutions involved in organising the 2015 conference are:

  • North West University, South Africa
  • University of South Africa
  • MidRand Graduate Institute, South Africa

Other sponsors are being sought: click here if interested in being a sponsor

How: 

  • Closing date for the submission of abstracts  – 17 April 2015. To submit an abstract, click here 
  • Last date for early-bird registration – 1 July 2015. To register click here
  • Notification of acceptance – 9 May 2015
  • Full paper submission – 1 August 2015
  • Full paper and/or slide show for Technology Showcases – 1 September 2015

How much:

The conference fee will include:

  • accommodation
  • 3 Meals with all drinks included
  • Gala event
  • Access to Plenary and Parallel sessions
  • All taxes and port charges
  • All gratuities.

The fee itself is yet to be announced.

Comment

Whether you think this a boondoggle or a carefully crafted educational experience where networking and focus is guaranteed, it should be great fun – if you (or your institution) can afford it.

In a world of hackers….editing of my book is interrupted

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Books lots! 2

I’m struggling to complete the final edit on my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. All chapters are completed in first draft, but I am trying to shorten the book from its current 460 pages, by condensing a few chapters.

In the middle of the editing, however, I’ve been having technical problems logging into the admin area of the book’s web site due to a massive hacking attack on the site. This has not affected the public site, but it means I have only intermittent access to the admin site.

You may notice then over the next few days some odd discrepancies in the public site. For instance, there is no Chapter 3 at the moment as it’s being edited down and incorporated into Chapter 2. The numbering of the chapters and sections will be out of synch. But I can’t get into the site at the moment to make the necessary changes.

I hope to have this all sorted out by the weekend, and in any case 90% of the book is available in its final form, but in the meantime, I apologise and hope you will understand if some bits of the book look a little odd.

Yale University to offer an online master of medical science

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Yale University 2

Korn, M. (2015) Yale Will Offer Web-Based Master of Medical Science Degree Wall Street Journal, March 10

This for me is much more significant than the announcement of the first xMOOCs. It is a sign that even the elite Ivy League universities are recognising the validity of online learning for credit, even in the most demanding of subject areas, after ignoring or even denigrating online learning for many years.

However, before you all rush to sign up, note the sticker price: US$83,162 – the same cost as for the on-campus program, which has been limited to 40 students a year. One reason probably for such a high price for an online program is that Yale is contracting 2U Inc to help with the design and delivery of the program.

Another high cost factor is that the program requires hands-on clinical stints at field sites near students and at least three meetings on Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus for activities such as cadaver dissection. Yale is aiming eventually for about 360 students across both the on-campus and online programs.

Yale’s move reinforces my view that there is still room for major expansion by top research universities into the online professional masters’ market. However, it will be important to price these at a level that makes them attractive to lifelong learners.

So good on Yale for leading the way for other Ivy League institutions. Now let’s hope someone else can do this at a more reasonable tuition fee (which in my view would be in the range of $15,000-$25,000 for the equivalent of a one year master’s program).