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Free to Learn
Geology, chemistry, and microeconomics are among U of I’s first free online courses on Coursera.
Rather than teach students by the hundreds, four LAS professors are now able to reach out to thousands at a time, across the globe. And their courses won’t cost students a cent.
The University of Illinois is one of a dozen top universities joining Coursera, an open online course company that offers Web-based courses for free. Partnering with this global network puts Illinois at the leading edge of the massive open online course (MOOC) movement.
The College of LAS courses available via Coursera this fall will focus on Earth, sustainability, organic chemistry, and microeconomics. The College of Engineering also has courses on building software tools, building mobile apps, and programming GPU processors.
“The opportunity to reach a really broad audience—beyond the confines of the classroom—opens doors to a new generation of education,” says Steve Marshak, director of LAS’s School of Earth, Society, and Environment.
Associate professor of geology Jonathan Tomkin has been developing the online course “Introduction to Sustainability” this summer in which more than 100 people—from four continents—initially signed up. After being listed on Coursera, an additional 700 people signed up within the first eight hours, and after one week, 7,000 had registered. More than 32,000 students are now enrolled.
“Open online courses are very exciting,” Tomkin says. “It’s a chance for LAS faculty to share their knowledge with a whole new group of people, all over the world. We see this as part of our push to increase accessibility to the University of Illinois—it’s another way that remote, working, and retired people can be part of our community.”
The College of LAS already offers online education through LAS OnLine—dozens of individual online courses as well as several online programs, including a bachelor’s in earth, society, and environmental sustainability and a master’s in health communication.
“The new materials developed for MOOCs will lead to enhancement of the on-campus education experience for Illinois students too,” says Marshak, a geology professor. He will teach “Planet Earth” through Coursera, focusing on how earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain building, ice ages, landslides, floods, life evolution, and plate motions have all interacted over the vast expanses of deep time to sculpt the dynamic planet that we live on today.
Coursera, founded in 2011, has seen over 680,000 students from 190 countries and more than 1.55 million course enrollments across its 43 courses. Other universities who have recently signed agreements with Coursera include the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, University of California-San Francisco, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, University of Virginia, and University of Washington. Princeton, University of Michigan, Stanford, and University of Pennsylvania joined earlier in 2012.
See www.coursera.org/illinois to sign up or to learn more about U of I’s courses.
By Holly Rushakoff
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