UF first Florida school to offer free online courses


Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.

When Wendell Porter lectures on global sustainable energy, more than 18,000 students will be listening.

The University of Florida lecturer has developed a free course that is being offered online to anyone who wants to register — one of the first crop of classes debuting on Coursera, a website that partners with universities to host free courses online.

Admission to UF is not required to take the classes, which are not offered for credit and have been termed massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

UF is the only school in Florida to be part of the invitation-only Coursera group, which includes 62 universities from around the world. Officials already have seen student interest skyrocket since rolling out its first few courses this semester.

The first MOOC, Fundamentals of Human Nutrition, has an enrollment topping 45,000, which, the university points out, is nearly as high as UF's total on-campus enrollment.

There are 16,000 students in the Economic Issues, Food & You course that began Monday and more than the 13,000 students enrolled in UF's Sustainable Agricultural Land Management course.

Andy McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology, said the enrollment for three live courses and one that goes live on Monday totals about 95,000. Faculty members also have responded eagerly.

"The faculty has gone from relatively uninterested to very interested," he said, noting that the most recent call for five course ideas yielded almost 40 responses.

The next batch of courses is expected to go live on June 1.

McCollough said faculty members have an opportunity to share and develop their expertise while picking up skills in how to develop online learning offerings.

UF spokesman Steve Orlando said MOOCs were a hot topic at a recent conference of officials from schools in the American Association of Universities.

He said many are keeping an eye on the new model of delivering classes through the Internet.

"We're just trying to see how it's going to play out," he said. "It's all very new."

McCollough said this model for online learning will allow UF to take a lead on a new approach to online learning through making part of a UF education accessible all over Florida and abroad.

In a statement, Porter echoed McCollough's enthusiasm.

"We don't know where this is going," he said, "but we're not going to get left behind."

Interested students can visit www.coursera.org and register for courses for free.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top