WASHINGTON – An algorithms class at Princeton or a logic course from Stanford may sound daunting. But for many families, the cost of tuition at top universities can be the biggest challenge.
Now an online platform, called Coursera, offers those classes and dozens of others for free.
The courses come from five prestigious universities — Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley — and the offerings range from poetry to software engineering.
“We think this is a tremendous equalizer,” says Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford and co-founder of Coursera. “We think there are many people out there that for geographical, financial [reasons] or time constraints do not have access…to the kind of high-quality education that these top institutions have to offer.”
Coursera is starting off with $16 million in backing from venture capital firms.
“By opening up this amazing experience to people anywhere around the world…we believe we can open up opportunities for people that will help them make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities,” Koller says.
The first classes begin April 23. The course list shows classes beginning periodically through February of next year.
“Today, the top universities in the world offer an amazing education to a minuscule fraction of the population,” says Andrew Ng, also a computer science professor at Stanford and co-founder of Coursera.
“I think using these online education technologies, I’d like to see a future where these universities are educating not just thousands of people, but millions,” he says.
One of the challenges related to online courses is creating exams for large groups. Multiple-choice tests don’t work so well in a poetry class, Ng points out.
But Coursera will tap into established social media habits and employ a peer grading system for certain works.
The classes are not designed for college credits toward graduation.