Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Coursera offers college courses free online

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng (吳恩達) share a vision in which anyone, no matter how destitute, can expand their minds and prospects with lessons from the world’s top universities.

That dream was joined this week by a dozen vaunted academic institutions including Duke University, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The schools will add online versions of classes to Coursera.org, a Web site launched by Stanford University professors Koller and Ng early this year with debut offerings from Princeton, Stanford and two other US universities.

“We have a vision where students everywhere around the world, regardless of country, family circumstances or financial circle have access to top quality education whether to expand their minds or learn valuable skills,” Koller said. “Where education becomes a right, not a privilege.”

Academic institutions are increasingly turning to the Internet as an educational platform. A Khan Academy Web site created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Salman Khan provides thousands of video lectures.

The nonprofit behind prestigious TED gatherings recently launched a TED-Ed channel at YouTube that teams accomplished teachers with talented animators to make videos that captivate while they educate.

In May, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that they were teaming up to expand their online education programs — and invited other institutions to jump on board.

Called edX, the US$60 million joint venture builds on MIT’s existing MITx platform, which enables video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, online laboratories and student-paced learning.

Coursera classes are free and completion certificates are issued that people can use to win jobs or improve careers.

“If a student takes a Stanford computer class and a Princeton business class, it shows they are motivated and have skills,” Koller said. “We know it has helped employees get better jobs.”

Coursera is distinguishing itself with essentially virtual versions of real classes.

“A lot of what is out there is basically video with, perhaps, some static content like lecture notes,” Koller said.

“We are providing an actual course exchange were people register and there is weekly homework that is graded with feedback about how they are doing.”

Coursera classes launched in February with most of the courses slated to begin in the coming months, but it has already -attracted students in 190 countries, Koller said.

Coursera uses crowd-sourcing to translate material into various languages and hopes to connect with French-speaking populations around the world with EPFL classes.

Hoping to spread knowledge around the world, Coursera is a way to inspire faculty to try new methods of teaching and find ways that Internet age tools can enhance on-campus courses, Duke provost Peter Lange said.

Duke designs its online courses to get students involved, complete with social networking tools for collaborating outside of classes.

“This is a great experiment in innovation and learning,” Lange said.

As of Friday, Coursera had about 740,000 students and that number is expected to soar as word spreads and class offerings expand.

Coursera plans to keep classes free, but perhaps one day make money by charging for course completion certificates or matching employers with qualified workers.

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