Online studies: A student sits in front of her laboratory computer
FIVE prestigious US universities will create free online courses for students worldwide through a new, interactive education platform dubbed Coursera, the founders announced on Wednesday (April 18).
The two founders, both professors of computer science at Stanford University, also announced that they had received $16m (£10m) in financing from two Silicon Valley venture capital firms.
Coursera will offer more than three dozen college courses in the coming year through its website at coursera.org, on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to neurology, from calculus to contemporary American poetry. The classes are designed and taught by professors at Stanford, Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.
Coursera joins a raft of ambitious online projects aimed at making higher education more accessible and affordable.
Founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng say professors from top schools will teach under their university's name and will adapt their most popular courses for the web, embedding assignments and exams into video lectures, answering questions from students on online forums - even, perhaps, hosting office hours via videoconference.
Multiple-choice and short-answer tests will be computer scored. Coursera will soon unveil a system of peer grading to assess more complex work, such as essays or algorithms.
Students will not get college credit. But Coursera may offer “certificates of completion” or transcripts for a fee. The company may also seek to turn a profit by connecting employers with students who have shown aptitude in a particular field, a spokeswoman said.
For their part, participating universities expect to benefit by boosting their reputation overseas, connecting with far-flung alumni and - they hope - bringing in donations from grateful online students.
“It will increase our impact on the world,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania.
The concept does have pitfalls.
There's no way for professors to tell who is completing the work, so “doors are wide open for cheating”, said Michael Winckler, a mathematician at Heidelberg University. It's difficult, he added, to replicate the collaborative learning that takes place in a traditional classroom when students puzzle through problems together.
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