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Elite US univ courses only a click away.

WHAT did I do when I found out from friends that Princeton, Stanford, UPenn and the University of Michigan are offering free online courses on www. coursera. org ? I did not believe it. But I soon found out that a friend of mine had taken two courses on Coursera and loved it.

I promptly went to the website and signed up for four courses.

This may well have been an excessively enthusiastic first move, but with courses like ' Listening to World Music' on offer, it was hard to stop myself.

Coursera is the brainchild of Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, two computer scientists at Stanford.

Backed by $ 16 million in funding and a partnership with four of the world's top universities, Coursera offers a range of online courses in humanities, computer science, mathematics, healthcare, biology and economics.

All reading material is open source and the universities also provide students with a certificate once they successfully complete the course.

What makes Coursera instantly lovable is its user- friendly interface. I was signed up by typing in my e- mail address and password. Clicking on the course title directs you to a page that describes in detail what to expect, including a neat brief on your instructor.

The Introduction to Sociology page tells me I will have weekly assignments, a mid- term exam between June 21 and June 24, and a final exam between July 19 and July 22.

" Coursera makes it possible to give more people access to the great teaching repertoire of our faculty and the exciting things going on in our classrooms," says Stephen J. MacCarthy, spokesperson for the University of Pennsylvania ( UPenn).

Adds Martha Pollack, Vice Provost of Academic and Budgetary Affairs, University of Michigan: " Online education is exploding and Coursera gives us the opportunity to shape it." Michigan, incidentally, is all set to experiment with novel approaches to online learning such as peer- to- peer grading of student essays for the course on science fiction and fantasy.

Deepti Chatti, a Stanford graduate now working as a development professional in Bangalore, took Coursera's Game Theory course offered by her alma mater and Michigan's Model Thinking course. " I think Coursera is an excellent medium for learning," she says, adding that the Game Theory course gave her a good understanding of a subject previously alien to her.

How different is it from taking the course at Stanford? For Deepti, it was " comparable". Considering the often crippling cost of quality education, particularly in the US, Coursera can potentially revolutionise higher education in the same way as Facebook has rewritten the rules of how we relate with our friends.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:May 15, 2012
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