Study at world's best varsities online

Study at world's best varsities online

College time

Even as we in Delhi continue to make college degrees exclusive to only the most meritorious students, worldwide, higher education is being increasingly democratised and study material made available through all new mediums.

Only last week, 12 most prestigious universities of US and Europe – including California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, University of California, Edinburgh University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne- opened up a 100 courses

offered in their colleges through an online platform called ‘Coursera.’

These courses include everything from Humanities and Social Sciences, Mathematics, Economics and Finance to medicine, engineering, business and ma­­nag­ement to even poetry. So whatever your past qualification, you can now study at the world’s best institutes, avail of the finest study material, sitting right here in Delhi and even get a certificate for it. Moreover, it is all for free.

The race to launch these ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs) among leading varsities of the world started only last winter. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US started a free class project, MITx in December. Next month, a Stanford computer science professor founded Udacity, a website offering free courses.

In May, Harvard teamed with MIT to create a similar venture, edX, and finally last week, a dozen universities signed up with Coursera.

Millions are expected to benefit from this and not for no reason.

Coursera has been designed to provide as traditional a college experience as possible. Every course has a detailed syllabus and prescr­i­b­ed time limit. For example, the ‘Fundamentals of Pharmocology’ is 10 weeks long. However, you can complete them at your own pace. There are real-time lectures and the professor can pause and poll the students at any time to see if they have grasped what’s just been said. Although, there is the option to see recorded lectures later too.

Students can ask questions on a discussion forum which the professors answer and the best ranked queries are bumped to the top. There are regular assignments and multiple-choice tests, and there is a program for humanities classes like poetry where students also grade one another’s work. The ‘passing marks’ and getting a ‘certificate’ on completing a course is completely dependent on the professor and varsity concerned. So, good ‘class performance’ and doing one’s homework, assignments and tests well is absolutely necessary.

But how does it work in the Indian scenario? Do Indian students even know about it to avail it? Career counselor Pervin Malhotra says, “The awareness level right now is low, but one can expect it to rise phenomenally in the coming years. It can immensely benefit those who cannot access college for any reason or need to supplement their knowledge. Even in the best colleges in our country, the syllabi are not updated for decades but the study material provided by these top varsities on such sites is the best in the world.”

But can a mere certificate from a course done on Coursera fetch one a job? Pervin adds, “I don’t think so. It cannot replace a traditional coll­e­ge degree. However, one can definitely put it on one’s resume as many of their classes are designed to help one acq­u­ire particular skills which pote­ntial employers can find valuable. Moreover, the fact that one’s set aside time for personal edification shows that he or she has a positive attitude towards learning, which is a plus.”

The University of Washington, though, says it’s planning to provide credits towards a degree through its Coursera courses soon. Who knows? It may just fetch jobs in the time to come.

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