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Faculty to Teach Coursera Classes Starting Feb. 4

Wesleyan President Michael Roth will teach a 14-week-long course on "The Modern and the Postmodern," through Coursera starting on Feb. 4. Coursera offers the public access to free online courses taught by professors from top colleges and universities.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth will teach a 14-week-long course on “The Modern and the Postmodern,” through Coursera starting on Feb. 4. Coursera offers the public access to free online courses taught by professors from top colleges and universities. (Video still by Ben Travers)

For alumni seeking to relive their days in the classroom, parents interested to see first-hand what their Wesleyan students are learning, and prospective students—or anyone else—curious about the Wesleyan experience, here’s your chance. Beginning Feb. 4, two Wesleyan professors—President Michael Roth and Associate Professor of Film Studies Scott Higgins—will open their virtual classrooms on Coursera.

In September 2012, Wesleyan announced a new partnership with Coursera, a company offering the public access to free MOOCs (massive open online courses) taught by professors from top colleges and universities. Wesleyan is the first liberal arts institution focused on the undergraduate experience to offer classes through Coursera. Since September, more than 130,000 people have enrolled in the six online classes that will be offered this year by Wesleyan professors.

Roth’s 14-week-long course, “The Modern and the Postmodern,” examines “how the idea of ‘the modern’ developed at the end of the 18th Century and how being modern (or progressive, or hip) became one of the crucial criteria for understanding and evaluating cultural change during the last 200 years. Are we still in modernity,” Roth asks on the course website, “or have we moved beyond the modern to the postmodern?” The class will consist of short video lectures, readings, quizzes, peer-graded writing assignments, and a final exam. Readings for the course include writing by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf, among others.

“Preparing the Coursera version of the course while teaching ‘The Modern and the Postmodern’ on campus has helped me to think anew about material I’ve been teaching for many years,” Roth said.

Wesleyan to Offer Free Online Courses through Coursera Partnership

Wesleyan is the first small liberal arts college focused on the undergraduate experience to partner with Coursera.

Wesleyan is the first small liberal arts college focused on the undergraduate experience to partner with Coursera.

Wesleyan announced on Sept. 19 a new partnership with Coursera, a company offering the public access to free online courses from top colleges and universities. Wesleyan was one of 17 new institutions to sign on this month, and is the very first liberal arts institution focused on the undergraduate experience to do so. Other partners among Coursera’s 33 participants include Stanford, Princeton and Brown; public research universities such as the University of Florida; and specialized schools such as Berklee College of Music.

Coursera was founded by two Stanford University professors seeking to expand educational opportunities through technology. Since its launch in January, Coursera has enrolled more than 1.3 million students, and now offers more than 200 MOOCs—or “massive open online courses”—some of which attract tens of thousands of students.

“As a school dedicated to teaching and scholarship, Wesleyan is pleased to be joining Coursera’s impressive initiative to provide intellectual challenge and reward to anyone with the desire to learn,” says President Michael S. Roth. “Liberal education cultivates freedom through lifelong learning, and American universities now have a great, unprecedented opportunity to promote freedom worldwide by sharing great teaching.”

Students move through Coursera classes at their own pace, watch videos of lectures by world-class professors, complete online interactive exercises and test understanding of concepts. Classes span the humanities, social sciences, math, science, medicine, business, music, computer science and more.

The recent announcement of Coursera’s expansion drew attention from many national news outlets, including The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In an interview with The Hartford Courant, Roth explained, “This is really about taking the education available to a few students at selective schools and making a version of it, not the same thing, but making a version of it available to millions.”

In a post on his blog, Roth elaborated on the thinking behind Wesleyan’s partnership with Coursera:

“The idea that Wesleyan will be offering free, massive online classes will strike some as paradoxical. We are a small university at which almost three quarters of the courses are taught in an interactive, seminar style. How is that related to online learning? In important respects the classes offered through Coursera are very different from the ones we teach here in Middletown. Our residential liberal arts education depends on the ongoing interaction of students with one another and with faculty. MOOCs encourage interaction of a different sort: through social media and chat rooms.

“Nonetheless, we want to understand better how students learn in these contexts, precisely because they are so different from our own. And we think it is simply a good thing to share versions of our classes with the wider world. The Wes educational experience does not scale up — but we can make available online adaptations of our classes so that those with a desire to learn have access to some of what we have to teach.”

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, will teach the online course, “Passion Driven Statistics.”

Alumni, parents and anyone else who wants a taste of the Wesleyan educational experience can visit coursera.org/Wesleyan to view current course offerings. Roth himself will offer a course, “The Modern and the Postmodern,” beginning Feb. 1, 2013. Other courses to be offered initially by Wesleyan professors include “Property and Liability: An Introduction to Law and Economics,” by Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, chair of economics; “Passion Driven Statistics,” by Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology; “The Ancient Greeks,” by Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, the Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, professor of classical studies; “The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound and Color,” by Scott Higgins, associate professor of film studies; and “Social Psychology,” by Scott Plous, professor of psychology. The courses range from five to seven weeks in length.

After one day of posting, 10,000 individuals had signed up to take Wesleyan Coursera courses.