Top Universities Offer Free Online Education, Business Plan to Follow

By Kelly Ni, Epoch Times
January 2, 2013 11:57 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 11:30 am
An online screenshot of Coursera's sign up page. Instructor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak said that his "The Ancient Greeks" course consists of a series of lectures highlighting the main parts from his in-class lectures. (Coursera)

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free, college-level courses available to anyone in the world. If you have access to a computer or tablet and the Web, then your choices of online learning courses are immense. 

While some MOOCs charge a small fee, others are free. Coursera is currently a free MOOC. The company describes itself as a “social entrepreneurship company” and partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, according to its website.

Daphne Koller, the Rajeev Motwani professor in the computer science department at Stanford University and the Oswald G. Villard University fellow for undergraduate teaching, co-founded Coursera with Andrew Ng, associate professor of computer science at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. 

According to American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of American Public Media, Koller said that there is a huge demand for high-quality higher education. 

“There are parts of the world where the vast majority of the population has no access to any kind of decent higher education,” she said. “And yet the kind of jobs one would like to have in order to make a better life for one’s self or family are ones that require higher education.”

Investors currently fund the project, and Coursera’s students are spread across the world.

Top universities with strong branding, such as Brown, Emory, Duke, Columbia, John Hopkins, Berkley, Rice, Stanford, and Princeton—to name a few, are among 33 universities worldwide that have partnered with Coursera.

One can learn how to play a guitar by signing up for Berkley College of Music’s Introduction to Guitar. One can take a course in cryptography offered by Stanford. Other available subjects include calculus, computer networks, programming, languages, electrical engineering, microeconomics, philosophy, finance, health, and equine nutrition—the list goes on. 

Impressive Impact

Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, professor of classical studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., teaches the ancient Greeks. Szegedy-Maszak said, while in the process of making the online MOOC, that it has been a very exciting venture.

According to Szegedy-Maszak, he has been teaching Greek history in the standard in-classroom lecture mode for quite a while, and he is enthusiastic about the change of pace.

“The idea of making this material available free and globally really appeals to me—it’s a different challenge,” he said. 

His course on ancient Greeks has an enrollment of some 11,500 students. 

“That’s a number I could never reach otherwise,” he said. As for the popularity, he attributes it to our “intellectual curiosity” as human beings. A lady in Greece sent him an email, writing simply that she was happy he was teaching Greek history.

Putting together a MOOC is a challenge because the lectures must be short and compact, just 12–14 minutes long. Szegedy-Maszak has to figure out how to fit 1,000 years into 42, 12-minute lectures. 

“This is not really the equivalent of the lecture course that I would do at the university where the lectures are 80 minutes—you have much greater detail,” he said. 

He has been joking with friends that a MOOC is similar to what they do in sports shows. “They do a highlights reel from a game—that is sort of the equivalent of what this is—sort of the highlights reel for Greek history,” he said. “At the same time, however, I don’t dumb it down.” 

Benefitting From Certification

While you cannot earn a degree from Coursera, you can earn certificates upon completion of a course. 

Szegedy-Maszak said that he received an email from a history teacher in the United States who felt that his knowledge in Greek history had been lacking. So he took Szegedy-Maszak’s course and presented his certificate of completion to the school board in order to show his effort in professional development. 

Coursera is in the process of teaming up with companies who are looking for employees, and Coursera is offering a career service to which MOOC students can “opt-in” if they would like Coursera to share their resumes and information with employee-seeking companies.

MOOCs are currently considered an experiment in higher education, and how MOOCs are going to be sustained and made to profit in the future is a question that many are asking.

“The current ethos in Silicon Valley is that if you build up a website where millions of people like to spend time, and they recruit their friends, then eventually the enterprise will be self-sustaining,” Koller said. “We’ve seen that in Google, Facebook and LinkedIn.”

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