Rice’s first Coursera class enrolls 54,000
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 12:10
Fifty-four thousand students are currently signed up for one Rice class.
This might seem impossible, but Rice’s partnership with an online learning company called Coursera has made Rice’s “An Introduction to Interactive Programing in Python” course available to students all around the world.
Coursera’s website hosts thousands of free courses from some of the most prestigious universities in the world, bringing first-class professors to anyone with access to the Internet. According to Coursera.org, most Coursera courses include regular video lectures, online homework assignments and online interaction with instructors. Students can enroll in courses at any time throughout the class.
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said Rice joined Coursera this past summer. Rice’s first Coursera class, “An Introduction to Interactive Programing in Python,” began on Oct. 15, according to Coursera’s website. Computer Science department chair Joe Warren, associate professor of computer science Scott Rixner, and computer science lecturers John Greiner and Stephen Wong are teaching the class together, Warren said.
According to Hutchinson, four other Rice courses are scheduled to debut in the near future: “Chemistry: Concept Development and Application,” “Nanotechnology: The Basics,” “Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering” and “Analytical Chemistry.” Hutchinson said he expects more Rice courses will become available on Coursera in the coming years, including many humanities and social science courses.
Warren said Rice’s Coursera involvement will do more than simply open Rice classes to the public. Some Rice Coursera courses will be integrated with their on-campus counterparts: For example, students in COMP 160: “Introduction to Computer Game Creation” watch video lectures from the Coursera “Interactive Programing” course outside of class and use class time to work on problems.
Coursera and COMP 160 professor John Greiner said he believes Coursera courses could help advance Rice classes.
“[Coursera] should be a great tool for Rice students, as we are going to take what we learn and apply it to Rice courses and improve the Rice courses and what we can do for the students here as well,” Greiner said.
Hutchinson also said Rice students will benefit from Coursera.
“The students will be given the opportunity to hear lectures and receive materials outside of the classroom setting so that the classroom can be used for other purposes: discussion, problem-based learning, problem-solving, collaboration,” Hutchinson said. “I think the switch to having in-class discussions and collaborative work among the students is desirable all by itself […] and I think [Coursera] enhances that change.”
Warren, one of the “An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python” instructors, said the large size of the Coursera class has allowed him to learn about his own teaching style and improve based on feedback on this larger scale.
“I think one of the things that can happen when you teach a class of 10,000 or 50,000 people is you get exposed to so many styles of learning,” Warren said. “I think in the end, it will give me an opportunity to become a much better teacher.”
Beyond immediate benefits for the students is an opportunity for Rice to expand its presence in the international education community, Hutchinson said.
“[Coursera] gives us an opportunity to share what we have created internally at Rice with people who are outside of Rice in exactly the same way we do with research publications,” Hutchinson said. “It should be possible for us to share the excellence of the educational activities at Rice with the world. That doesn’t mean we replicate them; the experience of a Rice student will always be enormously better [...] but [people] will know more about the teaching missions of Rice and the ways that we do things here and the excellence of our teaching program.”
Duncan College freshman Aaron Braunstein said he supports Rice’s involvement with Coursera.
“I think it is inevitable that we’re going toward the web in terms of education,” Braunstein said. “I’m glad that Rice is embracing that not only for Rice students but [also] for students who don’t have access to university classes.”
Warren said the students enrolled in “An Introduction to Interactive Programing in Python” range from an 11-year-old elementary school boy to Warren’s 73-year-old father-in-law. And according to Warren, students from all around the world are logging in to take Rice’s course.
“You name a country: I have a student from that country,” Warren said. “There are study groups forming in Asia, Eastern Europe, South America — you name it and there are students from it.”
Wiess College senior Susan Xie said the course increases accessibility to higher education.
“I really like the direction this is going in, making education more widely accessible regardless of whether you have the economic means,” Xie said.