Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Last updated: 34 mins ago

UBC to offer free online courses through Coursera

Photo Hogan Wong/The Ubyssey

UBC will offer three free, open, non-credit online courses this spring, joining a growing number of major universities making some of their teaching available to anyone with an Internet connection.

The three courses will be “Useful Genetics,” “Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Conversations” and “Computer Science Problem Design,” all offered through online education site Coursera. All will begin in May 2013.

“It’s part of the mission of the university to create opportunities for people to be able to access and take advantage of what UBC has to offer,” said Michelle Lamberson, managing director of UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology.

Professor Rosie Redfield, who said she brought up the idea of teaching the “Useful Genetics” course online last spring, said she also believes in making learning more open. “I’ve always done a lot of stuff online and done a lot of stuff openly and really like the idea of, as much as possible, making some intellectual resources openly available to anybody who wanted to use them,” said Redfield, who is also well-known for live-blogging her lab’s work and criticism of other scientists.

“All [people] need is an Internet connection,” Redfield said. “They don’t need any money, they don’t need to live near a university, and I thought that [this] was just a great thing to be able to do.”

Coursera, which was founded in April by a group of professors at Stanford University, allows anyone in the world to enroll in non-credit courses and hosts short videos, quizzes and discussion groups on its website. The company said in August that it had reached one million students across 196 countries, with the largest enrolment in the United States, Brazil, India, China and Canada.

Lamberson said that the primary goal of offering the online courses was to learn ways to improve education at the university itself. “It’s about better understanding how we provide high-quality education at UBC,” she said.

Redfield said her class will be ten weeks long, similar to a conventional on-campus course, and will consist of 3-6 short videos each week explaining key concepts, in addition to quizzes, homework assignments and links to third-party sites that will help students master the material. The course will not give students any UBC credit.

UBC’s Coursera courses will be overseen by the continuing studies department and instructors will be compensated at the same rate as for a conventional continuing studies summer course, according to Redfield. The courses will not count toward professors’ departmental obligations.

These three courses are part of UBC’s pilot program exploring its involvement in online learning, and Lamberson said it’s unclear whether or not UBC will stay with Coursera in the future.

“It [provides] a slice of some of the experiences at UBC,” she said of the courses. “But it certainly doesn’t replace the UBC experience.”

Coursera is at the forefront of the relatively recent movement toward massive open online courses, or MOOCs. While the notion of making higher education available to people around the world through technology has been around for decades, it has taken off recently as many universities like Princeton and Harvard have entered agreements with Coursera and its competitors, including Udacity and edX.

UBC announced their partnership with Coursera on the same day as 17 other universities. While many of these universities are in the United States, Israel, Hong Kong and Australia are also represented among the 33 universities that have partnered with Coursera.