UW-Madison to expand distance learning with Massive Open Online Courses

February 20, 2013 By Käri Knutson

Photo: five professors

Randall Wright, Constance Steinkuehler, Kurt Squire, Kris Olds and John Hawks (left to right) will offer four pilot courses as part of a new delivery system in higher education known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has announced that it will offer four pilot courses as part of a new delivery system in higher education known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

UW-Madison and 28 other universities from around the world have entered into partnerships with the online learning company Coursera to offer these courses, which promise to transform the traditional classroom. Two of them are scheduled to begin this fall, with the others to follow.

A MOOC is an online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the Web. They are a recent development in the area of distance education and build on earlier concepts for innovative course delivery. Courses use multimedia presentations, including video, and encourage learning through online interaction among students.

“MOOCs are a means to increase the range of ways we can offer education to learners,” says Interim Chancellor David Ward, who has encouraged creating learning alternatives through the Educational Innovation effort he launched in 2012. “The future of learning is connecting with people where they are at — increasingly, those places are online. We fully recognize the necessity for direct personal communication in higher education, but we must also experiment and explore the potentialities of online technologies.”

The four pilot courses will showcase five UW–Madison faculty who will teach topics with broad appeal. They include:

  • More than a High Score: Video Games & Learning, taught by Constance Steinkuehler, associate professor of digital media with the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Kurt Squire, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, who both are co-directors of the Games+Learning+Society Center within the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.
  • Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the “Knowledge Economy,” taught by Kris Olds, professor in the Department of Geography, and University of Bristol (United Kingdom) professor Susan L. Robertson.
  • Human Evolution: Past and Future, taught by John Hawks, associate professor, Department of Anthropology.
  • Markets with Frictions, taught by Randall Wright, professor, Wisconsin School of Business.

The classes are free and open to anyone, including current UW–Madison students, although they are not yet offered for credit. There is no limit on the number of participants.

Following evaluation of this first pilot effort, the university may offer up to six additional MOOCs in 2014.

“We look forward to offering these four pilot MOOCs as just one of the ways of pursuing educational innovation,” says Provost Paul M. DeLuca Jr. “Students will benefit from having additional options in their education, and we will learn much from these courses that will help us in our future educational efforts.”

Private funding is being sought to support MOOCs, ensuring that funding for other educational innovations and campus initiatives will not be diminished. Officials at Coursera say the courses will continue to be free and will be delivered without advertising.

Coursera was launched in April 2012 to offer platforms for online education. It will now have more than 60 institutional participants.

“We have been humbled by how quickly Coursera has grown in less than a year, and we’re working hard to continue to build our network of university partners to offer a high-quality learning experience to anyone who wants it,” says Daphne Koller, a co-founder of Coursera. “One of our top priorities is to reach the people who need education the most, including those who would not otherwise have access to the type of courses offered by the institutions that we have the honor of working with.”

More information about UW–Madison’s MOOCs, including course descriptions, biographies of the faculty, and frequently asked questions, can be found on the university’s Educational Innovation website. Coursera’s news release announcing the partnership is available here.