The last time I featured an online education story was in my Aug. 9, 2011 posting about Stanford University and a free, Artificial Intelligence online course. It was a hugely successful effort and seems to have, at least partially, inspired a whole new institutional approach to offering education.
Universities still want to make money but instead of charging for the courses, they’ll be charging for the certification in these new online education ventures. That’s the theory behind Coursera, founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng at Stanford University (California).
Today, Sept. 19 2012, Coursera announced that the number of participating educational institutions has doubled. From the Sept. 19, 2012 article by Anya Kamenetz for Fast Company,
Having already teamed up with more colleges than any of its rivals, Coursera adds 17 new global universities to its roster.
Since its debut earlier this year, 1.3 million people have signed up for a free six- to ten-week Coursera class, which includes videos, exercises, embedded assessment and a social component delivered through message boards.
Although still exploring business models, the venture-funded company plans to eventually make money through certifications (a path competitor Udacity is already pursuing). The addition of these new partners will give Coursera an advantage in what’s become an increasingly crowded online education market.
Kamenetz’s article provides more detail about Coursera’s competitors and course offerings. I’m going to concentrate on one of the new universities to team up with the company, the University of British Columbia (from my home province). From the University of British Columbia (UBC) Sept. 19, 2012 media release,
The University of British Columbia is joining forces with the U.S.-based company Coursera to provide high quality, non-credit courses free of charge to a worldwide audience – bringing the university’s expertise within reach of anyone with Internet access.
Starting spring 2013, UBC will pilot three non-credit courses taught by renowned UBC faculty and researchers through Coursera’s online learning platform.
“Our partnership with Coursera will enable us to reach people around the world, and to evaluate an exciting new teaching and learning technology,” says Simon Peacock, Dean of the Faculty of Science, where two of the three UBC Coursera courses will be housed. “Ultimately, I believe all UBC students will benefit from our exploration of this rapidly evolving online space.”
UBC’s Coursera offerings are “Useful Genetics” with Prof. Rosie Redfield [emphasis mine], “Computer Science Problem Design” with Prof. Gregor Kiczales and “Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Conversations” with Sarah Burch and Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, instructors for the UBC Continuing Studies Centre for Sustainability.
Coursera courses typically consist of videos or voice-over PowerPoint presentations, with student-led discussion forums, interactive activities, quizzes and assignments set at regular intervals.
(Rosie Redfield has been mentioned here before in the context of the ‘arsenic life’ controversy in a Dec. 8, 2010 posting where I apologized for having gotten caught up in the excitement and discuss the controversy at some length.)
Coursera‘s offerings are heavily weighted towards the sciences and mathematics but those are more easily quantifiable than the humanities and I imagine that makes them easier to mark. I understand from Kamenetz’s article, Coursera is testing a peer grading scheme. The website is easy to navigate as is signing up for a course. I do have a couple of provisos. (1) I was not able to find out the minimum technical requirement for a potential student’s computer. (2) At this point, they are offering certificates of completion, nothing else. You’re not going to be getting a degree or other professional certification from Stanford or Brown or UBC or any of the others.
On another note, I have a mild quibble with the UBC media release,
• UBC is building upon its leadership in continuing and distance education to enhance the student learning experience. The Coursera partnership will provide evidence-based findings for UBC to design and support quality learning interactions for online, face-to-face and other classroom delivery modes.
I’m not sure I’d call ‘jumping on the train’ with a bunch of other institutions leadership. As for the plan to extract data and mine the Coursera relationship so UBC can design and offer competitive (?) programmes in future, I think that must have been an interesting negotiation. As well, I appreciate the importance of building on someone else’s work as UBC is planning but I’m not sure I’d call that leadership either.