by Bill Forman
In the eight months since online education site Coursera started up, some 2.5 million people have used it to take university-level classes in everything from computer science to Aboriginal culture.
Courses generally range from six to 10 weeks, and there are hundreds to sign up for. You can, for instance, study music improvisation with jazz legend Gary Burton, take artificial intelligence or equine nutrition classes from the University of Edinburgh, or explore the social context of mental health and illness with University of Toronto professor Charmaine Williams.
While I haven’t personally taken any classes yet, a friend who’s a math professor in Europe recently posted online about the experience:
“I have never seen online math presentations quite like the ones in my class. (The University of Pennsylvania professor who teaches the class estimates it takes 20 hours to produce each 15 minute lecture.) While it seems you can take a class and do nothing more than watch the videos and get something out of it, in reality these courses — or at least the one I am taking — are not meant for the casual learner. My class is broken up into 5 topics, each topic consisting of a series of lectures. Each lecture is a 15 minute video. There are a total of 57 lectures in all. So we are talking a real commitment.
“In addition, each lecture includes a homework assignment that is automatically corrected upon submission. Videos often require multiple viewings in order to fully get the material and do the homeworks. In addition, there is an exam at the end of each topic. There is a deadline for taking exams and handing in homeworks. There will also be a final. The homeworks have taken me about an hour apiece. I expect a lot of the students are spending much more time than I am.
“At the moment you cannot get course credit, at least nothing that will transfer to another university. But once that day comes, I think you can say farewell to a great deal of the clunky distance education programs out there.”
Warning: The following video from Dr. Elsa Barkley Brown will make you want to take her course: