Princeton, University Of Pennsylvania And University Of Michigan To Offer Free Online Courses

April 19, 2012

Online educationThree more elite universities will begin offering free, massively open online courses, or MOOCs, through the platform Coursera, a new academic website.

Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor will join Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley in providing a mix of online classes. These will fall into areas such as business, history, literature, medicine, social studies, and computer science, according to Inside Higher Ed. Coursera already hosts seven classes, and will add about 30 more through the end of summer. Penn, for example, is slated to deliver 12 courses online through Coursera over the next year.

Two Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng created and used the platform last fall to serve two courses, reported The Wall Street Journal. Without marketing, those classes garnered about 200,000 students. With that success, Koller and Ng decided to launch a company, Coursera, and extend it beyond Stanford. Since then, the firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates, have invested $16 million in Coursera to grow the platform.

"Elite education is too expensive, and it's available for too few," said John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to The Wall Street Journal. "I'm not saying accredited institutions will go away, but having great content available for free in the U.S. can transform community college education...and in the developing world as well."

Coursera courses are delivered in 10- to 15-minute videos with embedded interactive quizzes and automatic grading to give students immediate feedback. A social networking component allows students to work together online. Students can't, however, interact with the professors directly. Instead, for feedback, they use an online forum to ask and rank questions, with the most common ones rising to the top, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

Courses are free to anyone online, but they will not receive formal credit. Schools, however, are considering giving students the opportunity to earn certificates bearing the names of both the universities and the company. As far as credentialing, no mechanism for that currently is in place.

"This is not Stanford credit, it's not Penn credit," Koller said in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "But I think the fact that this course has a level of academic excellence that is in some ways approved by these top universities is something that speaks to people."

Koller said she believes Coursera's platform could help professors build a better face-to-face experience by flipping their classrooms. In this case, interactive classroom instruction would replace the traditional lecture and material would be presented in other formats for students to digest outside of class.

"Our vision is that this kind of technology is going to improve the experience for both populations," she explained to The Chronicle of Higher Education, referring to on-campus and online students.

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"Elite Universities' Online Play," insidehighered.com, April 18, 2012, Steve Kolowich

"NEA, Kleiner Tackle Online Education With $16M For Coursera," blogs.wsj.com, April 18, 2012, Deborah Gage

"Online-Education Start-Up Teams With Top-Ranked Universities to Offer Free Courses," chronicle.com, April 18, 2012, Nick DeSantis

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