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Silicon Valley Firm To Help UVA Expand Online Courses

Jul 17, 2012
Originally published on July 17, 2012 12:17 pm



And we're here next about a new educational partnership with Silicon Valley. It's what the University of Virginia. You may recall last month, UVA's board of governors fired and then rehired President Teresa Sullivan. One reason some board members say they called for her ouster in the first place was that she had not moved quickly enough to expand the university's online courses. That has prompted new initiative being announced today, as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: The University of Virginia's deal with Coursera, a private for-profit company launched in April with the backing of Silicon Valley venture funds, will do what the university has been unable or unwilling to do on its own.

MILTON ADAMS: It will provide a new format. It's on the Internet. It's free. It's available to anyone all over the world.

SANCHEZ: Milton Adams is UVA's vice provost. He says Coursera will give the university a crucial online presence, something that board members have been clamoring for, as school officials struggle to find a more cost-effective means to deliver instruction.

UVA will now join Princeton, the University of Michigan, Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and other top schools that offer courses through Coursera. The University of Virginia has agreed to offer only a few courses for now: business, history, physics and philosophy. The courses will be free to anyone who's interested.

Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford University, and co-founder of Coursera, says some students are already earning academic credit through Coursera.

DAPHNE KOLLER: We hear from some of our students that they have taken these certificates that they get from us and present them to academic institutions in which they're already enrolled, and in some cases the institution accepts that for, you know, some kind of transfer credit and so thereby reducing the tuition burden.

SANCHEZ: But that won't be the case at the University of Virginia, says Adams.

ADAMS: As this agreement stands now, we will not give academic credit. This is to make knowledge available to the world.

SANCHEZ: In fact, not one of the 16 institutions that Coursera has signed up till now offers academic credit or a degree. Instead, students receive a certificate for completing courses that can last anywhere from four to 12 weeks. Coursera today enrolls 690,000 people in 190 countries and those numbers are growing.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors, who thus far have put more than $22 million into the operation, believe they can make lots of money down the road.

The University of Virginia's vice provost Milton Adams says this is not just about money, for UVA it's a chance to join the ranks of institutions that are using technology to help democratize higher education around the world.

ADAMS: And an opportunity to experiment with something new. This is an experiment.

SANCHEZ: In a statement, UVA president Teresa Sullivan said: There are still many unknowns concerning online teaching. But this partnership will in no way diminish the value of a UVA. Degree - rather it will enhance its brand.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.