Penn State has broadened the range of online learning opportunities it currently offers, adding to its more than 100-year history in distance education.
Along with 29 other schools, Penn State announced Thursday that it has joined Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) platform founded by two professors from Stanford University, Penn State’s Senior Director for Teaching and Learning with Technology Cole Camplese said.
Other partner institutions of Coursera include “top-tier institutions,” such as University of Michigan, Northwestern University and Stanford, Camplese said.
“It extends the opportunities for learners on a global basis to have access to parts of Penn State’s educational environment,” Camplese said.
He added that students enrolling in a Coursera course are not full-paying members of the institution, don’t have direct access to faculty, and won’t receive credit associated with the courses. These students are simply getting access to course materials and learning in an environment designed by Penn State faculty, he said.
While the courses taken at Penn State are rich with access to faculty, to library resources, among other things, the massive open online course is a “distilled version” of a course, Camplese said. In Coursera courses, students see video snippets of faculty talking about concepts, and though they interact with other students, they rarely do with the instructor, he said.
He added that it is not uncommon for a Coursera course to have thousands of people actively participating online together while learning about a topic.
Among Penn State’s reasons behind joining the online platform are the chance to showcase faculty expertise, to test innovative learning strategies, and to engage with communities around the world and people that might not otherwise have access to this info, Director of Outreach News and Communications Dave Aneckstein said.
Camplese said this is also part of the effort to extend and to enhance the brand of Penn State, while not taking away from what is done with Penn State World Campus. He added that, if one takes a Coursera course from Penn State and likes it, he or she can proceed to enroll in the World Campus course, pay tuition, get credit for it and apply it to his or her degree.
Though there are already about 2,500 people enrolled, courses are still accepting enrollment, as they have not officially begun. Camplese said those enrolled will be notified once courses begin.
“This trend signals the beginning of the next generation of online learning opportunities,” Camplese said.
Camplese said individuals enrolling in Coursera courses include high school students preparing for college courses, adult learners and people that would not be considered traditional college-aged learners. About two thirds of those come from outside of the United States, he said.
University spokeswoman Lisa Powers wrote in an email that in order to remain relevant and provide quality education, the university must continue to embrace technology use.
“This is just one more step in the evolution, and we’re thrilled that our faculty are ready to explore alternatives to what has been considered a traditional college education and experience,” Powers said.
Collegian staff writer Gloria Huangpu contributed to this report.