In the coming months, at least seven University of Michigan professors will offer free online courses on such diverse topics as finance, electronic voting, computer vision, and fantasy and science fiction using a new web-based platform called Coursera.
"Our faculty members are eager to share their knowledge globally and our students are equally excited about experimenting with this new approach to learning," says U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.
Coursera is an educational company founded in fall 2011 by two Stanford University computer science professors. U-M is one of four world-class universities that will make web-based courses available at no cost through the coursera.org website. The others are Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford.
Coursera's groundbreaking educational approach includes video lectures with interactive quizzes, mastery-building interactive assignments, and collaborative online forums.
One U-M course already offered through Coursera is Model Thinking taught by Scott Page, professor of political science, complex systems, and economics. More than 50,000 people signed up for the class, which launched in February. So far, Page's students have logged more than 1.2 million views of videos developed for the class.
Page encourages those who are curious about the online courses to check out his class, which continues for several more weeks. It will be offered again later this year.
"This is a great way for alumni or prospective Michigan students to experience a little bit of what a U-M education is like," Page says.
Provost Phil Hanlon says teaming up with other top-ranked universities through Coursera gives U-M faculty members who love to teach an opportunity to collaborate with others to shape the future of online education.
"While our faculty has much to offer through an online approach, we, as an institution, also have much to learn about how to make the best use of this new teaching tool," Hanlon says.
Martha Pollack, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, has been working closely with Coursera and the professors who will be offering the initial courses.
"This is one more way for faculty to share their expertise across campus or around the world," Pollack says. "And this is one more way for us to connect with prospective students and alumni."
This is not U-M's first foray into online educational content. There are many examples of web-based courses offered all across the campus.
Among these existing efforts are the online dental hygiene programs offered by the School of Dentistry, the MConnex program designed to link students, alumni, and faculty in the College of Engineering, and Open.Michigan, an initiative led by the Medical School to develop a culture of openly sharing knowledge in higher education.
A very timely U-M course to be offered through Coursera this summer will focus on electronic voting. The Securing Digital Democracy course will be taught by J. Alex Halderman, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering.
Halderman says he's excited to embrace this new educational technology by offering a course that examines the role of Internet security in electronic voting, and doing so in a presidential election year.
"Technology has changed some of the fundamentals of democracy," Halderman says. Understanding both the risks and the potential of electronic elections will be the focus of his video-based course.
"It's important to note that we are not teaching a basic skill, but offering a form of political empowerment necessary for the 21st-century citizen," he adds.
It was Halderman and his research team who, in the fall of 2010, successfully hacked into an Internet-based absentee voting system being tested in Washington, D.C. The team rigged the system to play "The Victors" after each new ballot was cast. They also were able to change all the votes to write-ins for famous robots and computers.
"Teaching is at the core of what we do as professors and Coursera offers an exciting new way to extend our reach to a broader audience," he says.
Among other U-M classes being developed in the coming months for the Coursera platform are:
Social network analysis, offered by Lada Adamic, associate professor of information in the School of Information; assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science; associate professor of complex systems.
Finance, offered by Gautam Kaul, professor of finance in the Ross School of Business.
Fantasy and science fiction: making sense of the modern world, offered by Eric Rabkin, professor of English language and literature, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; professor of art and design.
Internet technology and history, offered by Charles Severance, clinical associate professor of information, School of Information.
Computer vision, offered by Silvio Savarese and Fei Fei Li. Savarese is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, U-M College of Engineering. Li is an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford.