Monday, February 20, 2012

The Saylor Foundation and Free Education

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently, I found out about a website called which has a mission to provide a free education. Michael J. Saylor, the CEO of a business intelligence firm called MicroStrategy, founded the nonprofit organization in order to bring education to students at no cost at all. The concept of the Saylor Foundation sounds great, but does the website actually prove to be a quality source of education?

When I first logged into the site, I discovered that there were classes in all types of subjects from chemistry and mathematics, to mechanical engineering and business administration. Out of curiosity, I picked the subject of biology to see what it had to offer. I found that the site had a lot of different courses to offer such as cancer biology, human anatomy, botany, and more. However, as I scanned the list of courses, I noticed that not all of them were complete. Some classes were 95% complete, and others even less. This made me question the credibility of the courses. Later on, I read about how the Saylor Foundation contracts real college professors from around the globe to create these courses. It is great that college professors are making the courses, but I found it odd that the courses were incomplete.

As I dove deeper into individual courses, I found that the courses are split up into units and from there into readings on different topics. The readings are essentially links that take the user to different websites which contain articles, videos, and demonstrations on the specific topic. Of the several links I visited, I found that some of them were very reliable and accredited sources. Also, some links led me to YouTube which was a bit of a shock. These videos are being hand chosen by college professors, but I would approach anything taught by a YouTube video with caution. Overall, I found that the information being taught all looked to be correct, but it felt like something was missing. Some vital aspects of some courses were not emphasized or completely overlooked. For example, in an intro biology course, the site talked about the linkages holding together sugars, but it completely ignored the different types of sugars as well as the combinations that sugars can form when linked. In laymen’s terms, there was a quite a bit of key info missing from an entry level course. Also, due to the linked readings, the course felt chopped up in a way. As there was no single source of information, I could see students new to the material struggling to grasp it.

Another aspect of the website I read about was that the institution was not accredited; therefore, it could not give out degrees. However, upon completion of the course and a passing grade on the tests and quizzes, the site would allow the student to print out a certificate of completion. I found this a bit odd because although the student passed a college level course designed by professors, employers will not really accept a printed out certificate.

Overall, I do not think the Saylor Foundation’s courses can be considered completely up to par with a college level curriculum. However, I do not feel that the site is completely useless. The resources and quizzes offered by the site can be a great way to review for tests in classes being taken at a college. Also, the courses could act as a way for students to get their feet wet with some of a course’s material before they take the class. Perhaps students entering an intro chemistry class in college can review the course using this site during the summer. This would definitely help out in the fall when students may struggle to grasp the concepts in class. In the future, if the Saylor Foundation can find a way to be accredited while boosting some of their class material, I think the site will definitely be a success.



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