of between 200 and 2,000, for a total of 8,000 students per year, according to a 2012 article in the Washington Post.4 According to that article, “Virginia Tech students pass introductory math courses at a higher rate now than 15 years ago, when the Emporium was built. And research has found the teaching model trims per-student expense by more than one-third, vital savings for public institutions with dwindling state support.” It goes on to quote Carol Twigg, president of the nonprofit National Center for Academic Transformation, that the Emporium model has been adopted by about 100 colleges and community colleges.
In general, there is pressure to find less costly means of delivering classroom knowledge. An extreme scenario would be greater decoupling of teaching and research, with fewer universities focused on leading research. Movement in that direction would have a large impact on the mathematical sciences because the size of most mathematical science departments is driven by the teaching load. If teaching duties are offloaded to other mechanisms (community colleges, online learning, for-profit institutions), university mathematics and statistics departments may lose some critical mass. Such a reduction in service teaching could also weaken ties between mathematical scientists and other departments.
Some online courses with mathematical content have already proven to be tremendously popular, and this early attention will only increase the interest (by students and university administrations, at least) in experimenting with this modality. A 2012 article in the New York Times5 pointed to the enormous number of people around the globe who enrolled in courses offered in the fall of 2011 by Stanford University: 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled for a course in artificial intelligence, 104,000 for a course in machine learning, and 92,000 for an introductory database course. According to that article, other major universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Georgia Institute of Technology, are also beginning to offer “massive, open, online courses” or MOOCs. Other courses with mathematical content are offered through Coursera.org, which “is committed to making the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it.”6 As of October 11, 2012, the listings included the following:
• Model Thinking, from the University of Michigan;
• Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, from Stanford University;
4 Daniel de Vise, 2012, At Virginia Tech, computers help solve a math class problem. Washington Post, April 22.
5 Tamar Lewin, 2012, Instruction for masses knocks down campus walls. New York Times, March 4.