Where will Emory's venture into global online courses lead us?

By Erin Crews | Emory in the World | Oct. 24, 2013

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Look at a map plotting the locations of the 45,000 students who enrolled in music professor Steve Everett’s digital sound design course last spring and one thing becomes clear: the class reached every corner of the globe.

The course was Emory’s first foray into the world of massive open online courses (MOOCs), and Everett says more than half the students lived outside the United States.

“I don’t like to focus on numbers so much when we talk about MOOCs, but the numbers are pretty amazing,” says lead MOOC producer Lee Clontz. “In the first nine or 10 weeks of teaching classes, we had about 1.5 million video views, which is staggering.”

Last fall, Emory was one of a small number of elite institutions to join Coursera, an educational technology company that provides an online platform for universities to offer free classes to anyone with an internet connection. Founded only a year and a half ago, the company now boasts 83 partner universities and facilitates courses in seven languages. At last count, there were 4.7 million Coursera students.

“This is incredibly powerful,” says Lynn Zimmerman, senior vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education. “I cannot think of anything else that we do that would have the kind of reach that any one of these courses has globally.”

When Emory was in a time crunch to identify its first three Coursera courses, Everett—then the director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE)—reached out to Kimbi Hagen, assistant professor at Rollins School of Public Health. She had collaborated on the CFDE’s University Course on HIV/AIDS and would design a similar course for Coursera, organizing a guest-lecture lineup that draws on Emory’s extensive expertise in the area, as well as its connections with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Law professor Polly Price taught Citizenship and US Immigration, Emory’s first course on Coursera’s optional “Signature Track,” which charges a small fee to students in exchange for a verified certificate of completion—representing, perhaps, a glimpse of what’s to come.

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