Yale’s administration and faculty convened last Thursday to discuss “ways in which the University could expand online,” including having faculty “experiment” with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). We the students, though, must pressure the University to quickly advance this agenda beyond basic “experimentation.” MOOCs enable us to get most of a Yale education for free, and to optimize our Yale campus experience around creativity and collaboration. Online education isn’t waiting for some grand Yale agenda; it has already arrived. If Yale wants to advance the future of education — both globally and here on campus — we need a bold vision.

MOOCs gained significant cultural traction in 2011, when Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun offered his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class online — for free. Over 160,000 people around the world signed up to learn from him, take quizzes, complete homework assignments and engage online with their peers. Since then, interest in MOOCs has ballooned; Coursera, an online MOOC platform, now offers 208 courses.

Presuming these trends continue, what is the future role of brick-and-mortar Yale? Yale’s campus of the future should focus exclusively on hands-on creative learning, not passive knowledge absorption. Our campus should offer a purely generative education, leaving tethered education for the Net.

What are generative and tethered educations? These terms come from Jonathan Zittrain’s 2008 publication “The Future of The Internet — And How To Stop It,” in which Zittrain distinguishes between a generative device and a tethered device.

A tethered device is locked down and controlled entirely by the maker, such as your toaster. You use your toaster exactly how the manufacturers intended. Your iPhone is also a fairly tethered device; you only use it for what Apple allows via the App Store, and, at any point, Apple can reconfigure settings remotely.

A generative device, on the other hand, is open and accessible to modifications by the user, who has full control. Your laptop is a generative device; you can write and run code on it that the designers and manufacturers may never have imagined. The freedom to tinker and modify produces innovations independent of centralized, authoritative control. A user can take the resources of a generative device like the computer, and leverage them to implement new ideas.

Consider education in these terms. A tethered education is one that you consume as is, as the dictated by the maker. A generative education is participatory, one in which you leverage the resources of the University to experiment and test ideas. Yale has both of these on campus now, but it shouldn’t in the future. The tethered education should go online where it is cheapest — and arguably better — and Yale’s campus should exclusively focus on “generativity.”

The most egregious example of a tethered education is the lecture. The lecture invites no generativity: sitting, listening, memorizing and filling out exams doesn’t invite the student to tinker or modify knowledge to realize new ideas. It is my hope that the lecture goes the way of the horse and buggy — and as lecturers seek end-of-term feedback, they should heed Henry Ford’s famous quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Every course that is more focused on disseminating knowledge than learning experientially should become a MOOC. If the course involves problem sets with clear right and wrong answers, it can be a MOOC. If the course has an exam, it can probably be a MOOC. This is consumable knowledge, and should be consumed as cheaply as possible: online. Students should take relevant MOOCs before coming to Yale, so that they have the foundation necessary to join a campus optimized for generativity.

Then, when you come to Yale, you are given access to buildings, professors, peers and other resources. This is like being given a computer; you are told to freely write and run your own code for this platform. Your sole responsibility should be to tinker, to create, to invent. The extracurriculars, small seminars, independent studies and thesis groups we currently have should all remain, and we would have more time for them. In each class, students would be assessed solely on their portfolio of creations: new research, engineered prototypes, architectural blueprints, feature films, books, software, sculptures. Our time here together is scarce, and should be optimized for this collaboration, research and creation.

MOOCs and the technology enabling them aren’t inconveniences; they enable a revolution that requires a reimagining of Yale education. With strong leadership, Yale can provide the best of both educations: top MOOCs that are free to the world, and the most innovative campus.


Miles Grimshaw is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at miles.grimshaw@yale.edu .

  • bettercorporateperson

    while this MOOC mode initially appears to increase accessibility and idea-sharing, it is, in fact, part of an aggressive effort to undermine university education. It undermines teaching, exacerbating the trend toward adjuncts, casual and temporary employees, & graduate and undergraduate TAs taking on more and more teaching. It undermines essential classroom face-to-face discussions and TRUE collaboration. It undermines place-centeredness. And it contributes to the increasing corporatization of universities and commodification of learning. And while I agree there might be a benefit to off-campus learners who might partake of this content freely, there is no substitute for a university education.

    If we’re really interested in re-imagining the university, of “Bold Vision” let’s start with education as a public good. Not with jargon or think tank double-speak or myopic, cynical free market gobblety gook. We already have plenty of that infusing education at every level. It’s not the answer, not a bold vision. It’s what’s destroying American education and the commons. While MOOC model is presented as contributing to “democracy” and the commons it is very much tied to the neo-liberal project of eradicating both

  • ldffly

    “It is my hope that the lecture goes the way of the horse and buggy” So much for Vincent Scully.

  • theantiyale

    >The most egregious example of a tethered education is the lecture. The lecture invites no generativity: sitting, listening, memorizing and filling out exams doesn’t invite the student to tinker or modify knowledge to realize new ideas.<


    The lecture was absolutely the most fascinating part of the 17 years I spent garnering four college degrees:

    To sit in wonder at how this human being in front of the class has used his/her mind to garner and organize information; to question WHY this person is either boring you or riveting your attention; to marvel at precise wording and decry its opposite; to have that intellectual 'aha' that raises your consciousness to a new level of insight: THIS is education at its best, not some textbook, some digitized dance of left-clicks on a PC or finger taps on a touch screen, or student bull session around a seminar table.

    Fifteen minutes in the presence of Harold Bloom's ruminating across worlds of reading is worth more than a thousand hours of any on-line experience.

    It is the nobility of the scholarly mind presenting itself to an audience of students which is enshrined in the Academy.

    Televising the carnal confrontation of cerebration choreographed in a classroom is not merely to trivialize the Academy, it is to bastardize it.

    Paul D. Keane


    • ltwlimulus90


    • Zapatista

      “carnal confrontation of cerebration choreographed in a classroom” I mean are you serious? that sentence is embarrassing to read, much less write.

      • theantiyale

        No. Not serious. Playful with words. It’s fun.

  • je14

    Peter you need to go outside and meet people. Talking to yourself just isn’t going to cut it…

    • Peter Cao


      what I said stand still; take it easy

    • Peter Cao

      Thank you for the advise

      • vintermann

        What you write looks _extremely_ similar to other stuff that I’ve seen, which I know (from knowing the writers) was written by people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

        You don’t need to go outside and talk, Peter, you need to talk to a psychiatrist. Not that anyone can know for sure from an internet comment, but it can really harm you up if it is that – just as much as any genuine Merkel/Google conspiracy to harm you could.

        • PeterCaoSun


          some avid desire had twisted your mind; you need to take it easier than you look now;

          • vintermann

            It’s not a smear. There’s no shame in being ill.

            If you think of yourself as a rational person, you need to at least consider the possibility that you’re ill, when it seems to you that Angela Merkel is conspiring to kill random students in the US. Because that does seem wildly unlikely on the face of it, doesn’t it?

            You invite people to look at the evidence, but none of them manage to draw the conclusions you draw, or do they? (I don’t).

            I know it’s hard. How can you trust anything if you can’t trust your own ability to draw sound conclusions? (that ability is what’s hurt by schizophrenia, whether you have it or not). But if it should be that, there is help to be had.

          • petercao


            Some avid desire in your mind had driven you mad; you need to take it easier than you look now

  • idisagree

    There is nothing wrong with lecture itself. The problem with lectures is bad lecturers and large class sizes.

  • ippy

    Thanks for this great article. One point I disagree on is whether any class with a problem set should be taught online exclusively. Students can learn difficult concepts in economics, math, and physics at a faster pace if they are able to work through difficult problems with someone who has a grasp on the material. Some particularly brilliant students will be able to learn everything easily and quickly online or through a textbook, but having a TA or professor sit down with a student and give them constant feedback makes the material more accessible to a broader cross-section of students. Perhaps in these classes, students should be expected to do most of their learning out of a textbook, but a TA should be available to answer questions if needed. This interaction, I think, does need to be face to face for maximum effectiveness, just as independent studies, discussion sections, and thesis groups should be face to face.

    I agree that the lecture should be abolished. As another commenter wrote, it is true that lectures can be entertaining and that they can inspire students to become interested in the subject. However, a book can accomplish exactly the same function. Its just that students are conditioned to having the material enacted for them on stage, so reading a book seems less exciting. If lectures are abolished, books will begin to seem more interesting.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EMMAXYMEHQNU6LYF5M42TC57SM Peterming

    Sebastian Thrun mentioned in this article is not innocent in Stanford student May Zhou’s death, nor is he innocent in an unsuccessful plotted murder on me; before the case clarified and such anti-humanity crimes concurred at authorities, fascism still prevails in our lives