UNC to offer free online courses in the fall

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 05:32 PM

It’s official.

Starting in the fall, UNC will begin to offer massive open online courses or MOOCs, as they are called, exposing its faculty to learners around the world.

The courses, four to start, will be offered free of charge to anyone who signs up to take them.

UNC officials have said the university needs to gain experience in offering such courses in anticipation of a time when academic credit and tuition receipts become the norm for them.

The first four offerings include epidemiology, music, law and metadata.

Carol Tresolini, the university’s provost for academic initiatives, said that, by Thursday afternoon, the metadata course already had 328 people enrolled, even though enrollment had been open less than a day.

“That’s just in the first twelve hours, and the courses aren’t even going to be offered until the fall,” Tresolini said.

She added that the law course had 180 people enrolled during that 12-hour period, epidemiology had 156 and music had 97.

No course credit will be given to those who successfully complete the courses.

UNC officials see the courses as a way to serve the people of North Carolina, a stated mission.

“They’ll give us a little more reach, allowing us to extend the university’s resources to the public by providing learning opportunities,” Tresolini said.

She said the faculty will also benefit.

“In the course of creating MOOCs, there’s an opportunity for the faculty to develop materials that they can use in their regular classes,” Tresolini said.

In December, the university considered a number of platforms from which to offer the courses, but decided on Coursera.

“This is the next logical step to expanding our online presence along with some of the very best universities in the world,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp. “We look forward to learning from our experiences with Coursera as we continue evaluating the right approaches to online education for our campus and our future students in North Carolina and beyond.”

UNC was one of 29 new schools to join Coursera this week, increasing the company’s partnerships with universities around the world to 62.

Along with its new partners, Coursera also added 90 new courses, bringing its total online course offering to 313.

Duke University and UNC are the only campuses in North Carolina that have partnered with Coursera.

Since it launched last year, Coursera has gained 2.8 million registered users, with nearly 1.45 million course enrollments each month. 

The company uses a blend of video lecture segments, interactive quizzes, online message forums and other learning tools and strategies to teach and later evaluate students on their mastery of subject material.

Here are the five members of the UNC faculty who will kick-off the university’s venture into MOOCs:

  • Lorraine Alexander and Karin Yeatts, professors in the Gillings School of Global Public Health will teach “Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health.
  • Evan Feldman, a professor in the Department of Music will teach “Fundamentals of Rehearsing Music Ensembles.”
  • Don Hornstein, a professor in UNC’s School of Law, will teach “Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy.”
  • Jeffrey Pomerantz, a professor in the School of Information and Library Science, will teach “Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information.”