Marginal Revolution University: A Hidden Advantage

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok have started Marginal Revolution University, intended to be a set of online classes that will “communicate [their] personal vision of economics”. One selling point is the content will be designed for online delivery, rather than  being recordings of lectures.

They don’t mention another advantage. Before I was hired at Berkeley, I went there for a series of interviews. One was with a group of graduate students. One of them asked, “Which do you like better, teaching or research?” “I like research better,” I said. The graduate students smiled. You’re supposed to say you like them equally.

At Berkeley I met plenty of professors who liked teaching small classes. I never met a single professor who liked teaching large classes. (That included me — I didn’t like teaching them.) Berkeley has recently joined Harvard and MIT to form EdX, a nonprofit company that will offer online classes. “We are deeply committed to public education,” said Berkeley’s chancellor. Well, that might sound good or it might sound pro forma, but either way few of Berkeley’s professors want to teach the classes that EdX would offer, such as Introductory Psychology. Unless a class with 100,000 students is more personal than a class with 500 students. Whereas Tyler and Alex must want to do what they’re doing. No one is pushing them to do it.




3 Replies to “Marginal Revolution University: A Hidden Advantage”

  1. For what it’s worth, I’m a Berkeley CS prof who likes teaching large classes. I like them because (1) I thrive better (go into the zone more easily) in front of a large audience and (2) my department is wise enough to award more teaching credit for large classes. Perhaps it’s ironic that I’m not really tempted to do an EdX courses because I don’t think I lecture well in a studio. I need the live audience.

    Some of my colleagues in the department seem really excited about their large-scale online courses. Granted, those are usually upper-division courses like software engineering, and it’s only the full-time lecturers who seem excited about large-scale lower-division courses.

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