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Education's New Era

By Jackie Powder

In a new alliance with a leading online education provider, the Bloomberg School is refreshing its commitment to free online public health education.

Johns Hopkins is among 12 top-ranked universities that partnered in July with Coursera to make high-quality education available worldwide. The School is the first Hopkins division to offer classes through Coursera, founded a year ago by two Stanford University professors with four university partners. “It’s part of our mission to disseminate our knowledge,” says James Yager, PhD, senior associate dean for Academic Affairs and the Edyth H. Schoenrich Professor in Preventive Medicine. “We felt that this level of visibility, particularly with these other institutions, was the right thing to do at the right time.”

With the first course to launch in late September, the School’s Coursera offerings include Biostatistics Bootcamp, Introduction to the U.S. Food System, and Vaccine Trials: Methods and Best Practices. At presstime, more than 100,000 people had registered for the noncredit courses.

The collaboration augments the School’s Internet-based offerings, which include 106 online credit courses and OpenCourseWare (OCW), a Web resource that makes the content from 107 courses accessible at no cost to users worldwide on a noncredit basis. OCW does not offer assignments or exams. “[Coursera] is addressing another way that people learn,” Yager says, “and we’re reaching out to provide knowledge in a slightly more formal way than OCW that will hopefully help people who could never come here.”

The target audience is “anyone in the world who has access to the Internet and who has an interest in the course topics.”

Yager says that Coursera’s approach to open learning differs from the OCW model in that it offers “mini-courses” that may include quizzes and assignments. Students can complete class evaluations and may post questions to faculty via an online bulletin board. They can also answer each other’s questions and create their own social networks of learners with shared interests.

“You can actually determine how well you’re learning by taking quizzes and getting a little bit of faculty input,” he says.

Describing the Coursera partnership as an “experiment,” Yager says that School officials will assess the extent of global interest in the curriculum, review student feedback and determine the demands on faculty.

Yager says that the commitment would be worthwhile if students found the courses to be of value and “if we were able to attract some new students to take full courses and/or enter one of our degree programs.”