Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company, provides free online classes taught by professors at the most prestigious universities in the world. I was a bit suspect upon hearing about a new website that teaches online courses from top universities such as Stanford, Duke and Princeton. Could this company truly deliver on its goal of mastery learning over the Internet? To find out, I decided to gather first-hand experience by enrolling in a course.
After careful consideration, I chose to enroll in the "Introduction to Finance" course taught by Gautam Kaul at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. The 10-week course contains video lectures, quizzes and a final exam. The course is separated into 10 segments (one segment per week) that contain around two hours of video lectures and a quiz.
This online course is also being taught in "real time" with the live course at the University of Michigan rather than putting the content of the entire 10-week course online at once. Professor Kaul believes that adequate assimilation time, along with the ability to collaborate in sync with other students through the discussion forum, will enhance mastery of the course material and preserve essential pedagogical values. I believe these constraints are extremely useful to the learning process and core to Kaul's belief that a student's job is not to sit and soak up information. The student has a responsibility to be responsive and interact with other students and instructors to master the material. Students may be more likely to just sit through all of the lectures consecutively without fully interacting if all of the material was released at once.
I've had feelings of nostalgia from my college classes throughout the video lectures. Kaul is truly a world-class instructor that has found ways to connect with the online student. He claims that he can 'feel' the presence of the online student even though he cannot see the thousands of students watching the video. I believe this to be true, as I too found myself connecting with the instructor in ways that brought back vivid memories from my college classes. Watching the lectures online doesn't seem so much different than many of the 400+ student lectures that I participated in during my college coursework. However, this experience wouldn't be possible if the professor didn't have the passion and understanding of online instruction that Kaul does.
We are in the third week of the course and I feel that I am on the way to truly mastering the concepts that have been presented thus far in the coursework. This course has inspired me to sign up for other classes on Coursera, including 'Gamification' and 'Networked Life,' which are both taught by the University of Pennsylvania.
Higher education costs are among the fastest growing expenses in today's economy. Many projects including Coursera, Minerva and the Harvard/MIT collaboration project edX are all trying to crack the code that will lead to a lower cost and higher quality college education. I sincerely hope that these business models prevail and enhance higher education while lowering costs for everyone.