The University of Minnesota announced Wednesday that it is partnering with a Mountain View, California-based education company to offer free online classes starting this spring.
 
The university will use an interactive online platform, which was developed by education firm Coursera, to offer “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, which will be available for free to anyone in the world. MOOCs are reportedly a growing trend in higher education, with 29 universities across the country, including Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now offering college-level courses that anyone can take. Several others are also in the process of setting them up.
 
Like other universities, the U of M will not provide credit to those who complete the free courses. However, it said that it is working on a process that would allow students currently enrolled in the university’s regular classes to earn credit for completing MOOCs.
 
The university said that Coursera’s platform allows professors to teach hundreds of thousands of students per course. Five of the university’s professors have signed on to develop and teach free courses this spring, which include Interprofessional Health Care Informatics and Sustainability of Food Systems. Other faculty members are developing additional courses to be offered beginning this fall, the university said.
 
“We’re excited by the opportunity to explore innovative ways of using eLearning to extend the reach of University of Minnesota educational offerings across the state, nation, and globe,” Provost Karen Hanson said in a statement.
 
The Star Tribune reported that state lawmakers have emphasized their support for MOOCs. By blending MOOCs with traditional education, “we can find a way to reverse those alarming trends” of growing debt and low graduation rates, Minnesota Senator Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka told the newspaper.
 
Coursera will not charge the University of Minnesota for hosting its courses, the university said. However, there is a cost to the university, according to the Star Tribune. A MOOC requires time from faculty and staff members who, “if they weren’t doing this, they’d be doing something else,” Hanson told the newspaper. “Although they are free for those who enroll in them, they are not free.”
 
And some reportedly believe the university ought to be cautious in its investment, arguing that the courses’ efficacy is still untested.
 
To read the full Star Tribune report, click here.
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