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Rice launches free Coursera courses for Rice students


By Hajera Naveed     1/28/20 10:01pm

At the beginning of this semester, Rice launched Coursera for Rice which provides students, faculty and staff with full access to all Rice courses on Coursera for free. This effort is part of the Coursera for Campus program, which provides campus-specific courses taught by professors affiliated with the school.

Before this semester, members of the Rice community would have had to pay to receive a certificate for the completion of a Rice Coursera course and have premium access to it. With this new initiative, anyone with a Rice netid will have complete access to Rice courses on this platform for free.

Rice faculty have partnered with Rice Online, which works to spread Rice education through an online platform, over the last several years to create Coursera courses that are open to everyone, such as the Python course, which currently has over 146,000 people enrolled. These classes can be audited for free, or one can purchase a premium version of the course that includes graded assessments and a certificate at completion. 

Thomas Yeum, a freshman at Wiess College, said he heard about the Coursera courses over break and decided to enroll in the Front-End Web Development with React online course.

“Having the ability to take part in learning curriculum from all around the United States and the world for free was enlightening,” Yeum said. “I now have access to a level of education far more refined and organized than that on YouTube.”

Yeum said the Coursera courses are beneficial because of their flexibility. Rice students can fit these online courses alongside their regular classes during the school year or complete them during breaks. 

“It’s most helpful because I can take this university-level course whenever I want wherever I want,” Yeum said. “And there are other people taking the course alongside me so we can ask questions to each other.”

With premium access, students can post in course discussion forums to communicate with other students taking the course.

As of now, there are 40 courses available through Coursera for Rice and four are in the process of being published. As this program grows, students will have an increasing number of choices for courses. 

John Hutchinson, who has been a professor at Rice for 37 years, teaches an online course that covers the same content as his General Chemistry I and II course. As of now, there are over 47,000 people worldwide registered for Hutchinson’s online class. 

He began creating videos of lecture material in 2012 as a way to take part in the new approach to making educational materials available worldwide. 

“I wanted to share the approach I use to teaching chemistry with the world,” Hutchinson said. “My primary audience were teachers, and high school students who were looking for a resource to bolster their understanding of chemistry before college.”

Dr. Alma Novotny, biochemistry and cell biology professor, has an Immunology course available on Coursera which is modeled to mirror her Immunology 372 course offered at Rice. She began creating online versions of courses in 2010, with a similar vision of making her content accessible to anyone who wished to learn it. 

“When I started, I tried to duplicate what I was doing in lecture as much as possible,” Novotny said, “Rice has a lot of pre-med students, and if they don’t have time to take my course [they] can use these online courses as a way of upping [their] game intellectually.”

Hutchinson also has his online course videos available on Canvas for Rice students taking General Chemistry. 

“The [online] content is all the same, but Rice students get the direct opportunity to interact with the professor one-on-one, such as in office hours or through appointments with me,” Hutchinson said. “Since each student enrolled in the online course is in a different place content-wise, I cannot really participate in their learning experience.”

Rice Online worked as a partner with Coursera and the Office of Information Technology to launch this program. Rhonda Humbird, the Digital Education Project manager at Rice Online, said that as the program grows, participation should increase.

“Since the beginning of the semester, we’ve seen enrollment continuously climb,” Humbird said. “The courses are not credit-bearing, so I expect that they will always be secondary to other Rice courses, but they could be really useful as supplementary material and resources for courses that are being offered for credit.” 

According to Rice Online, as of Monday Jan 27 there are 410 students at Rice participating in Coursera for Rice, with a total of 446 unique enrollments.

Currently, Rice credit cannot be awarded for completing Coursera courses, but according to Humbird, it may be a possibility for the future.

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