First, just a technical note. A fellow named Chris Cardinale sent me a tip that software called “Total Recorder” from a web site creates really small sound files from .wav files. I downloaded and registered the software, for twelve bucks, and it works great. It compressed an 18-minute lecture down to a 1-meg file, as you can find here. So now I’m even more sold on the idea of a web outline with an audio file as a way to present a lecture. However, .wma files require Windows media player 9 or higher, and Chris says that older Mac users may be out of luck altogether.

Second, I have been thinking about issues related to distance learning, specialization in education, and inter-operability. For instance, why should a student at Harvard take a different economics course than a student at Stanford?

One idea I came up with is that instead of giving students school-specific course grades, they could be given ratings, analogous to chess ratings. Suppose that the average grade on the final in my intro econ class is an 82, and that if those same students take a test in a Harvard class they get a 73. We could adjust downward the scores on my final to make them comparable.

Once we have a whole bunch of different schools’ exams standardized, then a student could take two or three exams from different schools to get a reliable rating.

Once we develop confidence in the rating system, then we can get away from the notion of “required courses” or “required credits” and instead go to a system of required ratings. That is, to meet the distribution requirement in economics, you have to achieve a rating of X. To have a minor in economics, your rating has to be Y. To have a major in economics, your rating has to be Z.

For Discussion. Comment on the “rating” idea.