I was pleased to see in the most recent issue (Winter 2013), that Coursera has arrived at U of T. If you are not familiar with Coursera, here is some background. As they note on their website, Coursera is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with top universities in the world—to date 33 universities have signed on—to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Like our blended learning approach at Greenwood, Coursera uses online lectures and multimedia resources that enable students to master key concepts at their own pace.
According to the article in U of T Magazine, U of T is Canada’s first university to partner with Coursera. At present, U of T offers five courses through Coursera. 82,000 students from around the world are enrolled in an introductory programming course in computer studies, with 350 of these students being from U of T. Though the Coursera courses are non-credit, the resources offered in their program provide the U of T students with online modules they can use at home, and come to class better prepared. This approach, according to Professor Paul Gries, “frees up class time for more creative and interactive learning and allows for the best possible experience.” In effect, this approach being used at U of T resembles our approach to blended learning here at Greenwood.Aside from recognizing the value of online learning, officials at U of T are also working to design programs that allow their students smaller, hands-on experiences. The Winter issue describes New College’s ONE program, which “gets students into small classes and out of the lecture hall.” The ONE program is a collection of interdisciplinary courses that focus primarily on hands-on learning and the development of writing and critical thinking skills. By limiting enrolment in these courses, the hope is that first-year students will have an opportunity to develop relationships with peers and professors, thus making the transition from high school to university a bit easier.
All in all, it is good to see that one of the world’s leading universities sees the merit in a small, hands-on learning environment where teachers adapt to meet the needs of students and the importance of online, self-paced learning, all of which are vital components of personalized learning here at Greenwood.