Yale partners with MOOC platform Coursera

Five months after a faculty committee report re-emphasized the importance of online education initiatives at the University, Yale has decided to offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs, for the first time.

Provost Benjamin Polak announced the University’s new partnership with Coursera, a MOOC platform used by more than 60 schools including Princeton, Columbia, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, in a Wednesday email to the Yale community. Polak also announced the creation of a new standing committee on online education and the appointment of music professor Craig Wright to the newly established position of academic director of online education. Two Yale professors interviewed who plan to teach online classes through Coursera starting in January 2014 said they are enthusiastic about experimenting with the MOOC format.

“We want to continue Yale’s traditional role of disseminating [knowledge] around the world and make the great ideas that the faculty at Yale generate accessible to everyone,” Wright said.

Under Coursera’s MOOC model, anyone can sign up for free, non-credit, six- to 15-week courses taught over the Internet by Yale professors. Diana Kleiner, an art history and classics professor who will be teaching “Roman Architecture” through the platform next year, said Coursera integrates lectures and online activities such as problem sets and quizzes, allowing Yale’s online courses to reach a large audience while staying interactive.

Yale’s first courses with Coursera will be taught by Kleiner, political science professor Akhil Amar, psychology professor Paul Bloom and economics professor Robert Shiller.

“It’s kind of exciting because I think it’s not clear where education is going, and I’d like to experiment with other forms,” Shiller said. “There’s a lot of interest in these new courses. It seems to be a transformational moment, though I’m not sure that it is.”

Lucas Swineford, director of digital media and dissemination, said that while Yale’s MOOC partnership is an important part of its online education strategy going forward, it is only one component of a larger plan. According to Polak’s announcement, the University will use online education to explore other new teaching strategies that can be implemented in Yale’s classrooms.

This summer, Polak will appoint the members of the standing committee on online education. The newly formed committee, which will be chaired by Wright, will be composed of faculty members, administrators and two students.

In his new position, Wright said he hopes to serve as a liaison between Yale faculty and the University’s online education initiatives. He also aims to develop a set of “best practices” for improving online teaching and integrating new technology into the traditional classroom format.

Prior to his appointment, Wright co-chaired the faculty committee on online education with Bloom and taught online courses for Yale Summer Session and Open Yale Courses, a website launched in 2006 featuring free videos of lectures by notable Yale professors.

“With Open Yale Courses, we opened the Yale classroom to the world,” Kleiner said. “But by this new [Coursera] initiative, we can also reopen our own Yale classroom as well in new and interesting ways and re-evaluate the way we teach to make it more interactive and beneficial to students.”

Faculty and administrators said Polak’s announcement builds upon Yale’s strong history in the field of online education. Between 2000 and 2006, Yale partnered with Stanford University and the University of Oxford in an interactive online education venture, the Alliance of Lifelong Learning, or AllLearn. More recently, Open Yale Courses, spearheaded by Kleiner, has received millions of viewers.

Despite these achievements, the University’s partnership with Coursera marks the first time Yale has joined a MOOC platform. Since the term “MOOC” was first coined in 2008, the platform has rapidly gained momentum amongst institutions of higher education. Coursera has already partnered with 69 other schools and organizations, and Harvard and MIT launched their own MOOC platform, edX, in fall 2012.

With Yale’s announcement, Dartmouth becomes the only Ivy League school not affiliated with a MOOC platform.

Correction: May 17

A previous version of this article misstated the number of Coursera’s partner schools.

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