Free online courses will be offered in the fall, taught by UT professors

Christine Ayala

UT will offer free online courses, available to anyone around the world, starting this fall.

The course will be Ideas of the 20th Century, Introduction to Globalization, Bench to Bedside: Introduction to Drug Development and the Commercialization Process and Energy Technology & Policy.

The University recently joined the edX program, a nonprofit organization providing free online learning that was started by the Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and also includes the University of California at Berkeley, Wellesley College and Georgetown University.

Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and research senior lecturer, said the classes created by UT professors will offer students a certificate of mastery or completion at the end of the course, but will not qualify UT students for course credit. Keller said there will be no limit on enrollment in the classes.

“UT is one of the leading institutions in technology enhanced learning education,” Keller said. “This is one of the most interesting frontiers we’re exploring. These courses are aimed at personal enrichment and life long learning.”

The courses set to be offered next spring are Jazz Appreciation, Foundations of Data Analysis, Mathematics and Effective Thinking, Introduction to Embedded Systems and Linear Algebra.

The classes are part of the massive open online courses format, which is increasingly being offered at universities across the country. Recently, the American Council on Education endorsed a few similar courses at other universities to give students credit. 

Germanic studies professor John Hoberman, who will teach Introduction to Globalization, said the course would be limited to those fluent in English and with constant Internet access. Hoberman has taught the course in person for eight semesters and said he is restructuring the course to fit an online audience.

“Adapting a course that has been based on lectures and in-class discussion to an online format presents considerable challenges,” Hoberman said in an email. “This format requires a large number of short lectures; these presentations must be interspersed with maps, diagrams, video clips, photographs and quizzes. We must find ways to promote and respond to discussions in which a very large number of people may want to participate.”

The online course will not be restricted to the academic calendar. Philosophy professor Daniel Bonevac will teach Ideas of the 20th Century and said the online lectures will allow professors to give topics an adequate amount of lecture time rather than having to fit into a class period.

“Offering a course online opens up a range of possibilities that are unavailable in a typical, 15-week, three 50-minute classes per week format,” Bonevac said. “The overall content won’t be much different, but it may be divided into units quite differently. We want to choose lengths that are as effective as possible for each topic. Some are going to end up being much shorter than a typical class. Some may be about as long.”