Rice to partner with Coursera to offer free online courses

Rice one of 16 world-renowned universities providing instruction at Coursera.org

Rice University will offer five online courses free to people around the world as a new partner with the California-based enterprise Coursera.

Coursera launched in April as the first education platform to host content from multiple world-renowned universities at one website. Rice and 11 other prestigious universities were announced July 17 as new partners with Coursera, which began with courses from just four schools.

The Web-based courses include video lectures with frequent quizzes that reinforce concept retention and interactive assignments that test students’ understanding and build mastery of the subject matter.

“Rice is proud to be part of this new wave of technology-based learning in the company of some of the most prestigious universities in the United States and the world,” said Provost George McLendon. “Coursera will bring widespread exposure to the excellence of Rice’s educational and research programs.” Rice students can also benefit from the courses, which will be available as supplemental or instructional resources and can help stimulate discussions during classtime, he said.

“This is the year in which leading research universities have decided to participate significantly in the development and implementation of new technologies for higher education,” Rice President David Leebron said. “While we will continue to provide a high-quality, holistic on-campus education, making use of these technologies will enable us both to expand the pool of people who can benefit from lectures by our extraordinary faculty and, where appropriate, to enhance on-campus teaching.”

The trend that Leebron referenced was also noted by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a tweet July 17 that included a link to the New York Times article about Coursera’s new partners: “Terrific progress getting college courses online http://b-gat.es/NCf56D. Technology is game-changing here — need more pioneers like @Coursera.”

Rice’s pilot offerings for Coursera include courses in general chemistry, software programming, electrical engineering, analytical chemistry and nanotechnology:

Chemistry: Concept Development and Application will provide an introduction to fundamental chemical concepts of atomic and molecular structure, with an emphasis on the development of these concepts from experimental observations and scientific reasoning. Chemistry Professor John Hutchinson will teach the course.

An Introduction to Interactive Computing with Python is designed to be a fun introduction to the basics of programming in Python. The main focus will be on building simple interactive games, such as “Pong,” blackjack and “Asteroids.” Scott Rixner, associate professor of computer science, and Joe Warren, professor and chair of computer science, will teach the course. John Greiner and Stephen Wong, both lecturers in computer science, will also assist in teaching the class.

Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering: From Electrons to Bits will delve into the central ideas behind the representation of information by voltages and currents, the representation of analog signals like music and video by bits, and modern information communication systems, such as cellular telephone and computer networks. Don Johnson, the J.S. Abercrombie Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will teach the course.

Analytical Chemistry will provide a background in modern analytical chemistry with an emphasis on instrumentation. Applications of analytical chemistry in medicine, forensics and materials science will be presented. Vice Provost for Research Vicki Colvin, the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor of Chemistry and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, will teach the course.

Nanotechnology: The Basics will provide a bird’s-eye view into a research area that spans disciplines from electrical engineering to biology. Beyond research, the first applications of nanotechnology are finding their way into commercial products and offering solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The course is intended to help students develop an appreciation of the importance and foundation of super-small materials and devices. Colvin is also teaching this course, along with Dan Mittleman, professor of electrical and computer engineering and interim faculty director of Rice University’s Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

These five courses will become available at different times during the coming academic year, and Rice may make additional courses available in the future. For more details about the courses and how to enroll, visit coursera.org.

In addition to Rice, other schools that Coursera announced today as new course providers were California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at San Francisco, University of Edinburgh in Scotland, University of Illinois, University of Toronto in Canada, University of Virginia and University of Washington. They join Coursera’s original course providers: Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.

Coursera was founded in the fall of 2011 by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. Its mission is to change the world by educating millions of people via free online classes from top universities and professors. Coursera has seen more than 650,000 students from 190 countries and more than 1.5 million course enrollments across its 43 courses on topics in the arts, computer sciences, mathematics, history, literature and other disciplines. All courses are free for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

“We believe that putting courses online for free via Coursera offers tremendous value for students, professors and universities alike,” Ng said. “Students have greater access than ever before to the world’s foremost subject matter and experts. Professors can reach more students in one course than they could have hoped to in a lifetime. Universities can teach millions worldwide, and make time on-campus for interactive in-class learning. This is truly the future of higher education.”


About B.J. Almond

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