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.