The phenomenon of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has taken off rapidly. Many leading universities are exploring and leveraging on MOOC platforms. Coursera, an educational technology company based at Stanford University, is one of the major providers of free online learning. Formed in January 2012, Coursera has more than 3 million registered students, and has garnered 62 university partners. NUS joined Coursera as a partner university in February 2013.
Why did NUS join Coursera?
First, the partnership with Coursera will provide NUS with a global presence and online visibility, adding significantly to our international outreach efforts. It is not unusual for a Coursera course to draw an enrolment of more than 100,000 students. (In fact, currently, nearly 16,000 students enrolled in Coursera courses are from Singapore.) This gives an idea of the university’s potential reach through Coursera.
Secondly and more pertinently, the partnership with Coursera will allow NUS to leverage on the Coursera platform for our own modules. Through Coursera, NUS professors will be able to deliver new and better forms of technology-enhanced education that will augment our students’ learning experiences.
Let me explain.
The Coursera platform is well-developed, intuitive to use and very adaptable. It has the capacity and capability to host online courses at a level of sophistication beyond that of other existing platforms. Apart from the ease of uploading material and the plug-and-play features, Coursera also integrates peer assessments, guided exercises, learning checklists and data analytics, which allow course instructors to continually ascertain their students’ learning, and to calibrate accordingly.
Apart from sharing and showcasing NUS courses online to the world at large, the Coursera platform will allow us to expand the enrolment of heavily-subscribed modules at NUS. We are aware that there is a strong demand for some modules and they attract high bid points, year after year. We have erstwhile been constrained by various factors, such as the capacity of lecture theatres and availability of lecturers. Through Coursera, we will be able to circumvent some of these constraints, to enable more NUS students to have access to the modules they want to read.
In terms of infrastructure, NUS is the largest educational wireless setup in Southeast Asia and we are well-equipped to support online learning and other forms of technology-enhanced education. In collaboration with infocomm providers NCS and Cisco, NUS has successfully implemented a flexible, scalable and high-speed wireless network across its Kent Ridge and Bukit Timah campuses. To allow our users to enjoy seamless wireless access, even the internal shuttle buses on campus are equipped with mobile wireless access points via 3G routers. As such, our students and staff can watch a video or surf the Internet uninterrupted.
Coursera is an exciting development as we strive to build our own technology-enhanced education culture on campus. That said, students should not worry that we are planning to rely on MOOCs to replace face-to-face teaching. We remain focused on our top priority, that is, to enhance our students’ learning experience. Coursera is a tool; it however cannot replicate the campus experience; neither can it replace face-to-face interactions with the course instructor or with classmates. We expect to continue with face-to-face sessions while leveraging on the Coursera platform; internal NUS modules that utilise the Coursera platform will have tutorial sessions that focus on higher order skills and deeper engagement.
I will share more details in the following months. In the meantime, interested students can preview the NUS-Coursera page here. The first two public courses that NUS will be launching on the Coursera platform are ‘Write like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music Composition’ by Associate Professor Peter Edwards of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music; and ‘Unpredictable? Randomness, Chance and Free Will’ by Professor Valerio Scarani of the Centre for Quantum Technologies and the Department of Physics. Both courses will commence in January 2014. Feel free to sign up for these courses, or to explore the other courses offered on Coursera. Happy learning!