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Friday, November 16, 2012

Emory, Georgia Tech set to expand online courses in 2013

Both Emory University and Georgia Tech announced major plans to expand their online classes offerings this week, including the arrival of some for-profit courses in late 2013.

On Tuesday, Georgia Tech received $150,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will be used to create three Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) aimed at students who haven't graduated from college yet. The free courses will cover introductory "topics in the subjects of English composition, physics and psychology." And if all goes according to plan, these non-credit courses would launch sometime in January.

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The Georgia Tech Research Corporation received the grant, and plans on working with the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U), the College of Sciences, and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. C21U Director Rich DeMillo hopes that, through their combined efforts, the school can increase the availability of education opportunities to an increasing number of people.

"These Gates Foundation awards address one of higher education's most pressing problems: bending the cost curve and improving learning outcomes for introductory courses," DeMillo said. "The Georgia Tech courses being funded by these grants all represent innovation in pedagogy, teaching and technology. If we are successful, courses like these will be a shift in both quality and cost for the vast majority of American college students."

Even before the grant, Georgia Tech had already started offering online courses through Coursera, an education company that partners with schools by hosting some of their classes online to a wider audience. As of now, eight classes taught by the school's professors already have an enrollment of 140,000 students. According to the AJC, 40,000 have registered for the first class, Computational Investing Part I, which began in October.

Georgia Tech was one of nine colleges to receive grants from the Gates Foundation, including Duke and Ohio State. For them, it's part of a continuing effort to invest in this emerging education market.

"MOOCs are an exciting innovation," Dan Greenstein, a Gates Foundation spokesperson, said in a press release. "They hold great promise but are not without challenges, and we are still discovering their full potential."

Like Georgia Tech, Emory had also announced a partnership with Coursera. Starting this spring, Emory will make three classes - Introduction to Digital Sound Design, Immigration and U.S. Citizenship, and AIDS - available online.

Although credit isn't currently offered, that may change in the near future. Emory, along with nine other partner universities, have joined an initiative called Semester Online that hopes to offer for-credit courses starting in the fall 2013 semester.

According to its website, Semester Online plans on adopting a more "rigorous" curriculum in order to provide credit to students, saying that:

Students will experience a state-of-the-art virtual classroom, including live class sessions that connect students and renowned professors; compelling, richly produced, self-paced course materials; and a strong social network that allows students to collaborate and build relationships online.

Students will have the chance to take advantage of unique course offerings from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, courses they would not otherwise have access to. They will be able to work, travel, participate in off-campus research programs or manage personal commitments that in the past would have meant putting their studies on hold.

In Emory's announcement yesterday, they affirmed their support for online courses. The university's for-credit classes, unlike its Coursera offerings, would charge tuition similar to traditional college classes, have a competitive admissions process, and would limit the classes to about 15-20 students.

"All of the members of the Semester Online consortium are as committed as Emory University is to providing students with a rich, high-quality academic experience online," Lynn Zimmerman, senior vice provost, said. "It's exciting to be at the forefront of this - there isn't anything quite like it - and I know that Emory students are very excited about the possibilities."

For better or worse, 2013 stands to be a huge year for online college courses. How it plays out is something worth keeping an eye on over the next 12 months.

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