Princeton University to Offer Free Online Classes
The History of the World since 1300, Computer Architecture, and and
Statistics One are just some of the Princeton University courses you can
take without ever applying to Princeton, paying tuition or even
stepping on to the campus, thanks to a new partnership between the
school and a new online education organization founded by two Stanford
As part of efforts to use technology to enhance the Princeton
academic experience and enable faculty to extend their teaching beyond
the physical borders of the campus, the University is exploring the
development of online class materials through the new education platform
Princeton will join Stanford University, the University of Michigan
and the University of Pennsylvania in developing web-based course
materials covering a variety of academic fields.
“The Coursera platform will allow our faculty to explore ways to
improve teaching in our own classrooms, while at the same time allowing
them to make exceptional educational opportunities available well beyond
the confines of our campus,” Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman
said in a release about the partnership. “We are very pleased that
faculty in a broad range of disciplines are interested in tailoring the
use of this technology to their own particular courses for the purposes
of improving both the impact and the scope of their teaching.”
Coursera, which was founded in 2011 by two Stanford computer science
professors, is modeled on an interactive learning experience. The
Coursera website features recorded video lectures that are embedded with
quizzes and interactive exercises as well as forums for viewers to
discuss materials and pose questions. Users from around the world may
access Coursera for free.
“Coursera’s innovative platform will provide valuable opportunities
for some Princeton professors who want to use online supplements to
enhance their classroom teaching in ways that reinforce Princeton’s
vibrant culture of student engagement,” University Provost Christopher
Eisgruber said. “Princeton will also continue efforts to identify other
collaborations and approaches that facilitate the pedagogical
initiatives of its faculty, whether they are invoking new technologies
or sustaining the virtues of traditional teaching methods.”
Deputy Dean of the College Clayton Marsh, who is helping oversee the
collaboration with Coursera, said the venture is part of Princeton’s
broader efforts to support and encourage innovative uses of technology
in teaching and learning.
The self-assessments embedded within the pre-recorded online
materials, for example, provide faculty with real-time feedback about
student learning so that classes may be used in more focused ways to
address areas that require special attention.
“Students will be able to work through and review pre-recorded course
materials at their own pace, giving them a better chance to master
difficult concepts that are especially elusive when presented through
the fleeting medium of live lecture,” Marsh said.
Psychology professor Andrew Conway said online lectures could
supplement a course much like a good textbook, meaning more class time
could be devoted to discussion.
Historian Jeremy Adelman, the director of the Council for
International Teaching and Research, said such educational technologies
promote more experimental and global learning opportunities. Coursera
also supports supplemental materials such as interactive maps, he said.
“One of my big themes is change in global commerce,” Adelman said.
“Imagine during the first weeks of the course asking students to go
online to fill in a blank map of the world with what they have learned
about what commodities were traded, who did the trading, where the main
arrows of long-distance of trade are traced, and the technologies and
religious beliefs of merchants…The point is, what is posted is not just
my lectures and my chosen readings, but the product of the students.”
Adelman said the opportunity to share lectures with a worldwide audience is also an exciting prospect.
“My first priority is to my students at Princeton, but what I can
share with them and encourage them to explore can equally be of value to
others,” he said.
According to the Coursera website, the first Princeton class,
Introduction to Sociology, begins in June. The six-week class will be
taught by Mitchell Duneier. The class is one of eight Princeton
offerings listed so far.
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