Rice among first to offer Specializations program on Coursera

Rice University’s popular online course in interactive programming in Python is being expanded into a three-course series that will give students a chance to pursue a deeper introduction to computer science.

The three-part Fundamentals of Computing series is one of the new Specializations programs announced Jan. 21 by Coursera, the California-based online education platform that Rice became a partner of in 2012.

Specializations is a new type of certificate program that allows students to dive deeper into learning and mastering a particular subject. Many of the Specializations courses will culminate with a capstone project that allows students to apply what they’ve learned to relevant, real-world scenarios. Students who complete a multicourse series will receive a Specialization Certificate verifying that they finished a top-notch academic program online. A fee is charged to enroll in this program for a certificate, but the courses can also be taken for free if students don’t want the certification.

Rice is one of 10 schools offering a Specializations program.

“Rice University chose to develop our Fundamentals of Computing series for Coursera’s Specializations offerings to bring the high-quality teaching for which Rice is known and a distinctive curricular strength of the university to as many learners as possible,” said Caroline Levander, vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives and digital education. “Our goal is to innovate teaching and learning through sustained, in-depth study of a technical field that has widespread appeal to students, businesses and others interested in programming for computer games.”

An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python was Rice’s first massive open online course (MOOC). Over three sessions, cumulative enrollment topped 300,000 with the class being rated as one of the best online courses worldwide.

The nine-week course includes more than 70 video lectures, each just a few minutes long. There are also weekly quizzes and assignments called “mini projects,” which involve writing about 100 to 200 lines of code. If the code is written correctly, the students can play the game they’ve created and even email a link to let friends and family play too.

The course is taught by Joe Warren, professor of computer science; Scott Rixner, associate professor of computer science and in electrical and computer engineering; and John Greiner and Stephen Wong, lecturers of computer science.

They will also teach the two additional courses in the Specializations series: Principles of Computing and Algorithmic Thinking. The series will offer more challenges to students seeking to expand their knowledge of computer programming and is expected to begin March 24.

In addition to Rice, schools participating in Coursera’s Specializations program include Berklee College of Music; Commonwealth Education Trust; Duke University; Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Johns Hopkins University; Leiden University; University of California, Irvine; University of Geneva; University of Maryland and Vanderbilt University.

To register for Rice’s Fundamentals of Computing series, visit coursera.org and click on the Specializations tab at the top. The total fee is $196, but students pay as they go — $49 for each course plus $49 for the capstone project. To enroll in the individual courses for free (no certificate), search for them by name at coursera.org/rice.

Other Specializations programs cover topics ranging from data science and cybersecurity to Android development and the foundations of teaching and be found at coursera.org.



About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.