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More Universities Offer Free Online Courses

Math professor Gilbert Strang at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is among educators involved in massive open online courses
Math professor Gilbert Strang at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is among educators involved in massive open online courses

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Earlier this year, we reported on the growth of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. These higher education courses are mostly free and, so far, largely in technical areas like computer science. MOOCs are usually open to anyone and can have thousands of students around the world.

Entrepreneurs and educators are studying the different business possibilities. One idea is to make money by offering credits or certificates to students willing to pay. Another is to charge employers for connecting them with students who get top scores on online tests.

Some top universities are starting to offer their own MOOCs. For example, this week the University of California, Berkeley, announced it has joined a nonprofit enterprise called edX. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology started edX and have each invested thirty million dollars.

This fall, Berkeley will offer two of the seven free courses on the edX platform: Artificial Intelligence and Software as a Service. Berkeley will also work with edX to get more universities involved. Schools that offer courses on the edX platform will be called "X Universities."

MIT professor Anant Agarwal is the president of edX, and he helped develop an electrical engineering course for the fall. He says the goal is to reinvent education worldwide and on campus. Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau made similar comments as he expressed a commitment to "excellence in online education." He says the goals are to bring higher education to more people and to enrich the quality of campus-based education. And he said he believes that working with the not-for-profit model of edX is the best way to do that.

EdX faces for-profit competitors. One is Udacity, co-founded by Sebastian Thrun at Stanford University. Another is Coursera, started by two other Stanford computer scientists, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. In fact, some Berkeley professors have been teaching free courses through Coursera. Coursera started with four universities and last week announced a big expansion for the fall.

One of the new partners is the University of Virginia. Just last month its popular president, Teresa Sullivan, had to resign. The governing board forced her out in part over suggestions that she was not moving fast enough into this new world of online education. But two weeks later, after campus protests, the board rehired her.

And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Steve Ember.