Brown to offer noncredit courses online

September 19, 2012  |  Media Contact: Courtney Coelho |  401-863-7287
Brown University has partnered with Coursera, a company that provides a platform to offer free noncredit online courses to the public. Brown will begin with three courses in the summer of 2013. The project is part of larger online teaching initiative that will also include online summer courses. 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The Brown classroom just got a little bigger. The University has partnered with Coursera, company that provides a platform for free online noncredit courses to the global community. Brown’s courses will begin in the summer of 2013, with three faculty members currently signed on to participate.

The partnership will allow the University to extend its educational offerings to a larger cohort of learners and share the passion and talent of the faculty with the global public. Coursera will also allow Brown to explore online learning, including its potential for enhancing the undergraduate education through new approaches to teaching and alternatives to the traditional lecture format.

“In developing some inspiring Brown courses for the Coursera platform, we are not only bringing the best of Brown to a world learning community, we are also going to learn so much ourselves,” said Katherine Bergeron, dean of the College. “I am personally excited to see how this act of opening our classrooms to a wider audience will help us rethink how we are teaching at home, and I am grateful to our excellent faculty and to the team at Coursera for partnering with us in this experiment.”

The format of each Coursera class is left to the instructor’s imagination. It can take the form of online video lectures, live discussion sessions, games, and weekly readings. Quizzes are given regularly, and instructors must also develop a grading rubric to assess students’ progress.

Three faculty members will be participating in the initial round of Coursera courses from Brown: Arnold Weinstein, professor of comparative literature; Susan Alcock, director of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World; and Philip Klein, professor of computer science.

Weinstein, who has been teaching his “The Fiction of Relationship” class for more than 20 years, says he welcomes the challenge that will come with reformatting his lectures into the 10- to 15-minute lessons required for the Coursera platform. He said he signed on for the program to bring his popular course to a larger group of students. “Anyone who teaches has the desire to get their material to a broader audience, and I believe that what I teach to intelligent Brown students can also make sense to a thoughtful audience outside of Brown.”

Alcock will teach a course titled “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets,” which explores the profession, the practice, and the problems within the field of modern archaeology. Klein will offer “Coding the Matrix,” a course about central concepts in linear algebra and their use in computer science.

The partnership with Coursera is part of a larger University initiative toward online education, prompted last spring by the formation of a committee to explore various options. Convened by Provost Mark Schlissel and chaired by Bergeron, the committee sought feedback from a variety of faculty members and a large number of students. Its final report recommended that Brown should continue exploring creative ways to use online technologies for instruction. The Coursera partnership is one of two initiatives that were launched as a result of the report. The second initiative will make available a small number of the most popular 2013 summer session offerings online for a fee, charged by all summer courses.

Brown is one of 16 domestic and international universities to join Coursera at this time, bringing the total of university participants to 32. Launched in June 2012 by two Stanford University faculty members, the platform now offers more than 200 courses in 17 different areas of study and has enrolled more than 1.3 million students in courses since it began offering courses six months ago.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.