Online learning expands, thrives at Penn

This past Monday, Penn Law Professor Kermit Roosevelt welcomed online learners with a friendly email about his course, “Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases.” Roosevelt is teaching a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, through the education platform Coursera.

Roosevelt’s online course will provide learners with new readings and videos each week, and they will take a short quiz every so often to test what they’ve learned. The course is free and open to anyone who is willing to learn.

It’s been three years since Penn became a founding university partner with Coursera. More than 4 million enrollees in Penn-related courses later, Penn’s Online Learning Initiative, formerly known as the Open Learning Initiative, is thriving. The Penn Online Learning Initiative has produced more than 50 unique MOOCs taught by faculty from each of Penn’s 12 schools. Some courses, such as Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Robert Ghrist’s “Calculus: Single Variable,” have attracted more than 100,000 participants.

New this year are “specialization” courses, which cluster related MOOCs, offer a capstone, and conclude with a certificate for participants who pass. The Wharton School is offering its second specialization, this time on business analytics. It kicks off with a customer analytics course starting next week. It’s a different type of model, comprised of four courses ($95 each) and the capstone ($215).

“A specialization is another way to make Penn’s online courses engaging,” says Stanton Wortham, faculty director of the Online Learning Initiative and the Judy & Howard Berkowitz Professor in the Graduate School of Education. “Early evidence indicates that more people who sign up for specializations will complete the courses they start.”

Penn recently began offering alumni-exclusive versions of courses, too. This year’s alumni course, “Revolutionary Ideas,” is taught by Penn Medicine’s Alexander Guerrero, and is slated to begin Oct. 1. There’s a $15 registration fee for the alumni-only course.

Last year, the Online Learning Initiative began its Digital Content project, which gives grants to faculty members to bring technology-enhanced teaching into campus classrooms.

“The idea is to create a resource bank of pedagogical innovations, drawing on innovations in MOOCs and other technology-aided teaching,” explains Wortham. “One of the goals of the online learning initiative is to improve on-campus teaching.”

There are currently six digital content projects in various stages of development this fall.

“If the new technologies show promise for enriching on-campus instruction, then we can try to make them available to colleagues,” Wortham says.

Wortham notes that also new this year is Penn’s partnership with edX, another online learning platform. Courses to launch this fall on the platform, dubbed PennX, include “Intellectual Property Law and Policy,” taught by R. Polk Wagner, a law professor; “Analyzing Global Trends for Business and Society,” taught by Wharton’s Mauro Guillén; and “Going Out on a Limb: The Anatomy of the Upper Limb,” taught by James White, an adjunct professor at the Perelman School of Medicine. White’s course will be the first PennX offering, and will start in early November and run for six weeks.

For more information, visit the Penn Online Learning Initiative website, or follow Online Learning on Facebook and Twitter.

Penn Online Learning