With the launch last week of the first two of three free Massive Open Online Courses, Brown University has joined the cutting edge of online higher education for the masses.
Such online college classes, offered by some of the country’s top universities free of charge to the general public, are a relatively new higher education innovation. Brown is launching the courses through Coursera, a social-technology company that partners with schools to run the classes.
But Brown is taking its role in MOOCs one step further, offering what Wendy Drexler, director of online development, believes is the country’s first such free course targeted directly at high school students.
“I can’t say [MOOCs are totally] new, because there were some as early as 2007 that were offered from some Canadian universities, but the Coursera [classes] are a pretty new situation,” Drexler said. “I think some other [schools] are just sitting back and waiting to see what is happening.”
MOOCs began to receive a plethora of media attention in 2012, when Coursera, along with Udacity and edX, similar companies, opened for business.
Coursera counts, in addition to Brown, schools including Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, Rice University and Stanford University, among many others.
According to its website, Coursera’s goal is to promote a future in which top universities are “educating not only thousands of students, but millions” and to offer educational opportunities that now are only available to a select population to a broader group of interested learners.
These courses are not for-credit college courses, and Drexler said right now there is no thought of eventually having the Coursera classes becoming for-credit, though Brown will give participants certificates of completion.
Drexler said there are several reasons Brown decided to try out the online courses, including the new strategic-planning process currently under way with new President Christina H. Paxson.