Saturday, 23 February 2013

NUS to offer free online courses to public

By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2013

THE National University of Singapore (NUS) is joining other schools worldwide to offer free online courses to the public, with the first two to be rolled out in January next year.

It is partnering United States-based online education company Coursera to do this, and the plan is to offer two to three new courses each year on the firm's website.

The first two courses - Unpredictable? Randomness, Chance And Free Will and Write Like Mozart: An Introduction To Classical Music Composition - will run for eight and six weeks respectively.

Each weekly session - consisting of video presentations, guided exercises and peer-to-peer assessment - will last from 11/2 to three hours.

The courses will be taught by Professor Valerio Scarani from the Centre for Quantum Technologies and Associate Professor Peter Ivan Edwards from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

Prof Edwards has incorporated online instruction in his modules for more than five years.

"There are people out there who are intelligent and want to learn things. It's not too much work for me to reformat my lessons and put them online," said the 40-year-old.

Prof Scarani, who is also 40, said: "I think these courses are not about grades or certification; it's about putting NUS out there globally and telling people about its quality education."

NUS is among 29 universities from 13 countries which have inked new agreements to offer courses using Coursera's platform, bringing the company's total number of university partnerships to 62. Other schools include Rutgers University, the University of Tokyo and Leiden University.

Coursera is one of the major providers of free online learning, alongside others such as edX and Udemy.

The trend took off in the US last year, though some people have questioned the value and effectiveness of online lessons, noting that there is no face-to-face interaction between students and lecturers.

But NUS provost Tan Eng Chye said technology-enhanced learning is here to stay.

"Online learning is not perfect. But it doesn't mean that we don't do anything until the perfect system comes along," he said. "We see this as an opportunity to extend our education. We like the idea that our audience is the world."

NUS is also planning to offer existing modules that are popular among its students online, using Coursera's platform. Pilot programmes will start in August.

Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University are also exploring the possibility of offering free online courses in the future.

Stanford Don's Singapore Connection

By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2013

COURSERA, an online education company launched by Stanford University computer professors Andrew Ng (right) and Daphne Koller in April last year, has a Singapore connection.

Professor Ng, 36, who is British, lived here from the time he was in Primary 2 till the end of his junior college education. He enrolled in Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College.

He has since moved to the United States. The holder of a PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, is now an associate professor of computer science at Stanford.

"Growing up in Singapore had a huge influence on how I think about education. It was really Singapore's education system that showed me what impact a great teacher can have," he said in an e-mail interview.

He added that, since 2007, he has been working on free online education at Stanford.

After the successful launch of the first three courses, each of which drew an enrolment of more than 100,000 students, he decided to partner Prof Koller to start Coursera. It has registered more than 2.7 million students.

Currently, 15,555 of the students are from Singapore.

Several Singaporeans also work in the firm, including third-year Stanford undergraduate Frank Chen, 24, who is a part-time software engineer.

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