With Coursera, Yale’s online education expands

Professor Diana Kleiner, a member on the University’s committee on online education, will be featuring “Roman Architecture” on Coursera.
Professor Diana Kleiner, a member on the University’s committee on online education, will be featuring “Roman Architecture” on Coursera. Photo by Diana Kleiner.

This morning, Art History Professor Diana Kleiner will deliver her perennial lecture on Roman architecture to a crowd of Yale undergraduates. Meanwhile, 40,000 students from around the globe will tune in to a similar lecture from Kleiner via the online education platform, Coursera.

Kleiner’s lecture marks Yale’s first venture into Coursera — an online education platform that offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) — in a move that online education leaders like Kleiner call the natural next step in Yale’s 14-year experience with online education. Three other Yale courses will begin on Coursera in the next few weeks: Paul Bloom’s “Moralities of Everyday Life,” Robert Shiller’s “Financial Markets,” and “Constitutional Law” with Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84.

“My doing a MOOC is really part of my own evolutionary process — it’s the natural thing for me to do at this point in time,” Kleiner said.

Craig Wright, a Yale music professor and chair of the University committee on online education, ventured that Yale would offer roughly four more Coursera lectures in the next academic year, emphasizing that the University will not rush headlong into the Coursera venture.

The four professors teaching Coursera courses have all been involved with Yale’s online education initiatives. Kleiner spearheaded Yale’s offerings at AllLearn, another online education platform, and she also founded, directed and taught on Open Yale Courses, in which Shiller and Bloom have also participated. Bloom regularly teaches courses on Yale’s online summer session, for which Amar will also teach this summer.

Kleiner and Bloom are both members of the University’s committee on online education.

Yale’s online education team approached these specific professors about Coursera because the four exemplify Yale’s excellence in scholarship, Wright said.

“I think we wanted to find the professors that would put the very best of Yale forward, so that people from all around the world could say, ‘Wow, this is really exciting, this is really high quality,’” Wright said.

Lucas Swineford, the director of the office of digital dissemination and online education, said Yale looked to Duke, Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania as models for the Coursera offerings, though Yale also had the advantage of drawing on its own experiences with Open Yale Courses and online summer courses.

Amar and Bloom both filmed new entire sets of lectures for their Coursera lectures at the Yale Broadcast Studio, according to Swineford, while Kleiner and Shiller will pull from their Open Yale Courses lectures while also recording some new material.

Kleiner said the decision to keep material from her Open Yale Courses in her Coursera offering was largely driven by issues of copyright — she had already received intellectual property clearances on all the material.

Intellectual property issues presented a challenge to John Covach, a music history professor at the University of Rochester who teaches a popular Coursera lecture on the history of rock music. For legal reasons, Covach said, he couldn’t play music on his Coursera offering as he would in his course at Rochester. On the other hand, Covach said, Coursera offerings are not meant to replicate college courses.

“At least in my case, I don’t believe the Coursera course is actually a college course,” Covach said. “It’s an extensive series of public lectures organized like a college course.”

Covach said students in his Coursera course — strangers from around the world — took more ownership of the class than even graduate students in his in-person class had, in the past. Students in Russia formed a Facebook group for the class, Covach said.

But while Covach makes a strong distinction between his classroom teaching and his Coursera lectures, Princeton University Professor Jeremy Adelman mixes the two. Adelman said he joined Coursera to put his Princeton undergraduates “in conversation with students from elsewhere in the world.” Princeton students who enroll in his global history class are required to enroll in the Coursera course and watch recorded lectures at home, Adelman said. The students in the class are required to interact with non-Princeton enrollees on blogs that they manage.

Adelman said his method has freed up class time for more interactive classroom learning — ultimately echoing Covach’s point that classroom and Coursera learning are two very different things.

“Putting my lectures online has made me even more engaged with Princeton students,” he said.

Coursera currently offers 568 online courses.

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