Univ. of Florida launches state’s first MOOCs – courses free to anyone who can log on

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The University of Florida is the state’s first university to offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

That means anyone in the world can now get a taste of a UF education — for free.

Early indications are that there’s quite an appetite.

There are 16,000 students in the Economic Issues, Food & You course that began Monday. There are more than 13,000 students enrolled in UF’s Sustainable Agricultural Land Management course, and the Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future course, which will launch Sunday, has more than 18,000 students already enrolled.

Even more massive is the enrollment in UF’s first MOOC, Fundamentals of Human Nutrition, which now exceeds 45,000. That’s nearly as high as UF’s total on-campus enrollment. To teach her MOOC students face-to-face, Kristina von Castel-Roberts of UF’s College of Public Health & Health Professions would need more than half the seats in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Students neither need to be admitted to UF to take the MOOCs, nor do they pay tuition. They do not receive credit for the coursework.

UF is pioneering efforts in giving away content for several reasons, explained W. Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology.

First, it makes a UF education more accessible all over Florida and the globe. Wendell Porter, a lecturer in the department of agricultural and biological engineering, teaches the Global Sustainable Energy course. He said a MOOC gives him the potential to reach more students in a single course than he has taught in decades in the classroom or even in online courses with controlled enrollment.

Second, through its partnership with MOOC industry leader Coursera, UF stands to gain expertise in designing, marketing and staging a course for tens of thousands of students at a time. Coursera’s invitation-only consortium includes only 62 universities worldwide. UF is Coursera’s only member in Florida.

“Not only am I educating, but I am becoming more educated,” von Castel-Roberts said. She has students from Brazil, New Zealand and Ethiopia. The geography of her class roster spans six continents.

The international makeup of the class may give her insights into nutritional guidelines abroad that she can put to use in teaching local students interested in careers in international aid, for example, she said.

“I feel like the experience will make me a better educator,” she said.
A new set of five courses have been selected from more than 30 applications for production, with a “go live” date of June 1.

“We don’t know where this is going,” Porter said, “but we’re not going to get left behind.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.