Duke University will offer noncredit, online courses free to anyone as part of a venture with 15 other universities and a California-based company, university officials announced Tuesday.
With the announcement, Duke joins a pack of universities plunging into a big experiment – free online education for the global masses. In May, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University unveiled their own venture, called edX, which prompted a seismic reaction in higher education.
The partnership that Duke is joining started last year with a company called Coursera and four universities – Stanford, Michigan, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. A dozen additional universities, including Duke, were added Tuesday. The company provides the universities a single platform to deliver the online courses. Already, about 650,000 students from 190 countries have taken Internet courses through Coursera.
Duke’s provost, Peter Lange, said the move is part of a larger push by Duke for more innovation in teaching. That has included teamed-based learning, greater use of technology and “flipped classes,” in which students can watch a video of a faculty lecture before class and then spend class time on collaborative projects and interactive exercises.
The Coursera partnership will accelerate new teaching methods, Lange said, and extend Duke faculty expertise on a global basis.
“It’s an experiment,” he said. “Nobody knows how these things are actually going to work long term. But it’s an opportunity to try some new things, to be innovative, to get the feedback and assess it and then see where you want to go next.”
So far, 10 Duke faculty have committed to the project. Starting this fall, they will teach courses in astronomy, engineering, philosophy, neuroscience, nursing, human physiology and cell biology. Duke professors will work with information technology specialists to record videos and create online assignments for students they’ll never see.The process
Here’s how it works: A student anywhere can take a course on his or her own time, and the length of the course could range from four weeks to 12 weeks. Lecture videos are available online, as well as quizzes or other electronic assignments. Students can discuss the material on message boards.
Students receive no grades or course credit, so once the course is created, there is little time demand on the professor.
Duke will spend some money on course development. The venture is not a money-maker yet, but there is always a possibility that down the road people might be willing to pay for the content, Lange said. It’s too soon to tell.
The biggest boon may be the way the new methods influence teaching of Duke students in Durham.
Mohamed Noor, a Duke biology professor, will teach a course called “Genetics and Evolution” online through Coursera this fall.
There’s a big demand for science content, he said, and this will be a way for people who have an interest, but maybe not the money or the time, to enroll in a university class.
“I’ve always been an advocate for open access to research data, for open access to publications,” Noor said. “This is a chance to bring that same concept to education and teaching.”
And in an added twist, he’s going to have his class at Duke watch the same lectures online from their dorm rooms. Then, the class time will become more productive, with group projects, added question-and-answer time and greater connection to his face-to-face students.
“I’ll be much more interactive with them than I could have been in a passive lecture with people just sitting there,” he said.A bargain
Noor’s online students will be getting quite a bargain. Undergraduate tuition this fall at Duke is $42,308 (total cost of tuition, room, board and fees at Duke will be $56,056).
Will that breed resentment? No, said Lange, the provost.
“They’re getting credit for it,” he said, “and the Joe down the street is not. It won’t be the very same course.”
Noor points out that his students in the physical classroom will get all kinds of extra benefits, including more academic activities, a hands-on lab section and direct contact with the professor.
“There’s still a huge added value to taking the class at Duke University,” Noor said. “Nonetheless, the very base level product is put out for the world.”