The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is part of a group of schools partnering with Coursera, the provider of massive open online courses, to begin offering free online courses for teachers.
UVa already offers several online classes through Coursera. With a six-week course in October, it will become part of Coursera’s first foray into the world of pedagogy.
“I think teachers are very important, and I think frankly in this society we offer teachers and, often parents, far too few resources,” said Andrew Ng, Coursera co-founder and a Stanford University professor.
Ng said superintendents he’s spoken with were excited about the program and expressed openness to looking for ways to allow teachers to meet their continuing education requirements online, and that he expects the program to grow in general.
“I think this’ll be huge,” Ng said, calling it something that could “move the quality of K-through-12 education nationwide.”
UVa has viewed the massive open online courses, which allow anyone to enroll for free but don’t count for UVa credit, as an experiment, rather than a means of bringing in money.
The free online courses exploded onto the national education scene in the months before last summer’s leadership crisis at UVa. Emails showing top leaders’ interest in the project, combined with concerns from Rector Helen E. Dragas about the university’s readiness for dealing with such courses, boosted local interest. Shortly after the crisis ended, UVa revealed it had already been in talks with Coursera, and announced it would be offering the online classes.
The Curry School course will be called Effective Classroom Interactions: Supporting Young Children’s Development and will focus on early-childhood education. Curry spokeswoman Audrey Breen said the program is a pilot based on material from an existing course.
“The faculty and researchers at the Curry School of Education are national leaders in improving the quality and effectiveness of preschool education,” said Robert Pianta, dean of the school and founder of its Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, in a UVa news release.
Pianta added, “The launching of this free, online course is simply the next wave of effort to innovate and scale our proven-effective methods for early childhood workforce development, allowing us to make good on [President Barack] Obama’s promise to expand high-quality preschool.”
Researchers from the center were already working on a federal-grant-supported project to develop and test an online course to help early-childhood teachers interact better with students.
Ng said the online model offers some improvements over the current model of continuing teacher education, which often pulls teachers out of the classroom. He hopes to give teachers more opportunities to interact with each other.
“And so this is inconvenient for teachers, disruptive to the classes and very non-differentiated,” Ng said of traditional teacher instruction methods.
The peer-grading technology Coursera developed for its other online courses was vital to creating the teacher-education system, Ng said.
Also partnering with Coursera for the new project are education schools from the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt University and the University of California’s Irvine Extension, as well as Match Education and Relay Graduate School of Education.
In addition to the universities, Coursera is working on the project with the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art and others.
“The MOOC experiment at UVa has been immensely successfully, reaching out to an enrolled audience of 400,000 individuals around the world,” said Kristin Palmer, UVa’s program director for online learning environments, in the release. “Working with Coursera has initiated great conversations across Grounds for faculty, students and administration.”