Coursera makes top college courses free online
"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, according to Koller. 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, according to Duke provost Peter Lange. "Our faculty is incredibly excited by the idea of trying it out and seeing if we can learn from it," Lange said. "I love the idealism of it; the potential to reach people who might never get the chance to attend the university." 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 boasted 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 for operations by charging for course completion certificates or matching employers with qualified workers. "Current ethos in Silicon Valley is that if you build a website that people keep coming back to and is changing the lives of millions, you can eventually make money," Koller said. "If and when we develop revenue, universities will share in it." Paying the bills is not a worry at Coursera due to generous backing that includes a $3.7 million combined investment by the University of Pennsylvania and the California Institute of Technology, as well as funding from venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
By Glenn Chapman