Open Learning at Penn

GLOBAL LEARNING: Penn launched its Open Learning Initiative in July 2012, a vital part of the University’s mission to increase worldwide access to educational resources that can impact humanity. As one of the early adopters of massively open online courses (MOOCs), Penn aims to create and disseminate knowledge, drive teaching innovation, and expand the University’s global presence.

DEPTH AND BREADTH: Through a partnership with online platform Coursera, roughly 1.6 million students from more than 162 countries have enrolled in Penn’s Open Learning courses. The University has featured 24 unique courses, 36 total sessions, and has 19 courses in the pipeline. Deirdre Woods, interim executive director of the Open Learning Initiative, says six of Penn’s 12 schools have delivered one or more Coursera courses, and four more schools will be delivering courses in the next six to 12 months. “We have courses all across Penn that really demonstrate Penn’s depth and breadth,” she says.

YEAR TWO: As Penn moves into its second year of open learning, Woods says the University is analyzing the data from its MOOCs to understand trends in learning, and thinking about ways to expand other online offerings going forward. “Clearly we have a wealth of expertise and content that might be used in other formats,” she says.

CROWD FAVORITES: The popular “Calculus: Single Variable” Coursera course, taught by Robert Ghrist, the Andrea Mitchell Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor, returns on Jan. 10. Woods says nine high schools around the country, including Friends Select School in Philadelphia and Norristown High School, are using Ghrist’s course material in a pilot program. “Gamification,” a Coursera course taught by Kevin Werbach, an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School, returns on Jan. 27.

NEW COURSE: New next semester from Penn Open Learning is the “History of the Slave South” Coursera course taught by Stephanie McCurry, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History in the School of Arts & Sciences. Beginning Jan. 20, the 10-week class will cover the rise and fall of the Slave South from the 17th century to the end of the Civil War, and focus on the right of slavery and its meaning in Southern, U.S., and world history.

OPEN EDUCATION: McCurry says she was interested in creating a Coursera course for the intellectual challenge and because she was curious about the possibilities of MOOCs for a democratic, open, free education. “And I wanted a different audience,” she adds. “I wanted to see what it would mean for me intellectually to have these subjects that I care so much about be part of a conversation with people whose connection to them is different than Penn undergraduates.”

SUSTAINABILITY ONLINE: Forthcoming this spring is the “Sustainability in Practice” Coursera course taught by Mark Alan Hughes, a professor of practice at PennDesign, and Leslie Billhymer, a lecturer in architectural design and sustainability at PennDesign. “That’s another course that addresses really relevant issues in today’s world from the experts,” Woods says.

IDEAS WANTED: Woods says Penn Open Learning is currently accepting proposals through the end of January.

Penn Open Learning