Top Universities to Offer Free Online Courses

Online education is fast becoming the hotbed of venture capitalists. Two Stanford University Computer Science professors have secured $16 million in funding from venture capitalists for a Silicon Valley free online education portal. Named Coursera.org, the website will be offering free online classes to students worldwide. As of now, the online education portal will be enrolling students in three dozen courses in 2012. Courses will be conducted by professors from University of Michigan, University of California at Berkley, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University.

Different than Contemporaries

Though a number of such ventures exist today, Coursera will be the first of its kind which will be adopting interactive components for all of its free online courses. Professors from the above mentioned universities will be teaching their most popular courses online, interacting with students through forums, and if possible, will also be conducting sessions through videoconferencing. Assignments and tests will be an integral part of these courses, founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller said. Making education affordable to the masses is the primary goal of this project. Furthermore, capital infusion from venture capitalist firms will be instrumental in achieving this goal, the founders also stated. As the student demographics will be varied, everything from teaching to evaluation will be done online.

The Same Pitfalls

Online education though has its own benefits; certain things however cannot be ignored. For instance, a mathematics professor conducting a course of Game Theory expressed his concern that there is no way they can monitor the students. During tests, it is also not possible for them to ensure that the students are not cheating. This is why University of Phoenix does not have tests. Its grading philosophy is based on research papers, presentations, online presentations, team work, participation, tutorials, discussion questions, and so forth. Memorizing answers is not what they are about. Though some say collaborative learning, the mainstay of traditional classroom courses though exists virtually, it is not as effective as conventional courses. The founders however are confident that as time progresses, solutions will be worked out on those fronts too.

Others believe online learning, as just mentioned, exceeds the value of sitting in a classroom and taking notes. How often does collaborative learning occur in a traditional classroom? Most of the time it is just taking notes and listening to the professor speak. In addition, in an online learning environment, words are written, you can read and contemplate what a classmate is saying and even save it for future use.

Teaching Problems

The trial run was far from satisfying for some. Professors have to give classes to students in the form of videos which is where many had problems. The video lectures mostly were shot using a camcorder recording low quality pictures. Moreover, as the lectures were recorded at their home, there were many disturbances. The students however have brushed aside these concerns and seem to be satisfied with the content quality of the lectures. An Artificial Intelligence course conducted last fall saw enrollment from 130 countries totalling 25,000 students.

The Money Situation

If venture capitalists are funding this project, it would be safe to assume that a business model also has been worked out beforehand. Coursera founders however have divulged little details on that front. The portal plans to connect bright students with prospective employers helping the portal in earning fees in the process. Indirect benefits would include brand building of participating universities enabling them to increase student enrollments. Donations from alumni and present students will also be accepted by the portal.

About Benjamin Roussey

Benjamin Roussey is from Sacramento, California. He has two master degrees and served time in the U.S. Navy. His most recent master’s degree is an MBA in Global Management from the University of Phoenix.