CU-Boulder to introduce MOOCs with Coursera in fall semester

Four free, online courses announced as university joins fast-growing field

Editor’s note: This story first appeared as an update to the Feb. 21, 2013, issue of CU Connections.

The University of Colorado has entered the age of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. On Feb. 21, CU-Boulder announced it had joined Coursera and will begin offering four or more MOOCs starting this fall.

Coursera is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with top universities around the world to offer courses online for anyone to take for free. Its technology enables the best professors to teach tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of students. CU-Boulder was one of 29 institutions announced last week as being added Coursera to its online learning platform, bringing the total number of Coursera school affiliates to 33.

The news was announced to the CU Board of Regents during the second day of its meeting at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

“These courses are open and are completely free to anyone who wants to participate,” said Kathleen Bollard, vice president and academic affairs officer, during the meeting. “In any course we offer, the faculty provides the curriculum and develops the learning environment.”

MOOCs, initiated in 2008 by the University of Manitoba, have grown in size and popularity, leaping from fewer than 20 courses in 2011, to 180 in 2012 and standing at about 300 courses today.

Besides easy access, mass student bases and affordability, MOOCs offer the advantage of providing analytic data quickly, Bollard said. “If you have 2,000 students registered in a course and you give a quiz, you immediately know what point people didn’t get; you can go back and revise teaching methods. You have more data than anyone has ever had before into how students learn. A whole new scholarship around this is growing.”

CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano worked with Coursera’s founders, Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, to bring MOOCs to the university. Coursera, launched in April 2012, was started with $22 million in funding and now offers more than 220 courses, serving 2.68 million.

“We have a faculty committee that is working with faculty from engineering and arts and sciences in the area of physics and computer science to get these courses up and running,” DiStefano said. Courses to be offered are:

  • Intro to Physics
  • Graphic Novels and Comics
  • Linear Programming
  • Power Electronics

At this point, MOOCs are not eligible for college credit, but Bollard said that could be changing.

“There are people who say this will change the way we look at what a degree is,” Bollard said. “Is it a collection of badges that speak to competencies you have? Is it the liberal arts education we value? This is why it’s so important to make sure we are part of the cutting edge of that conversation, to drive that conversation.

“There is still huge value in a university degree, especially a University of Colorado degree; it’s just a matter of making sure that we find smart ways to work with changes that are coming in and to monetize what we can.”

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