Online, Professors Are Famous for a New Reason: Teaching

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are going to make professors famous, not for research awards, books, Ted Talks, or columns, but for-dare I say it-teaching.

Until now, professors have become famous by venturing outside their profession.  While they can only lecture to a few hundred at most, other outlets and positions have offered more.

For example, at Harvard, Professor Gregory Mankiw’s biggest claim to fame as the teacher of Economics 10 is that he left Harvard to work for President George W. Bush. Princeton political science professor Anne-Marie Slaughter is widely known, not for the classes she teaches, but for her controversial article, Why Women Can’t Have it All. But MOOCs give academics the opportunity to lecture to hundreds of thousands of students. As a result, people around the world will know them and respect them for the act of teaching itself.

Take the example of Professor David Malan, who teaches CS50 and its online compatriot, CS50x. Professor Malan’s lectures are now broadcast to well over 100,000 people around the world. And during lecture, Professor Malan takes pride in welcoming his online students. This past week, Professor Malan played short videos of students around the world thanking him and Harvard for the opportunity to learn CS. On his Facebook page, students of CS50x from all around the world have thanked him for allowing them to enroll in the course.  An endearing example, a Boeing engineer wrote on Professor Malan’s wall, “My son and I are taking CS50 via edX. Having fun with Scratch. Thanks for the opportunity.”

And so, as Professor Malan continues to build a global CS50 community of adoring students, he and other professors teaching online courses may be carving out a new role for academics: superstar online professor.


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