Penn Launches Its First Free Online Classes via Coursera

PHILADELPHIA -- This week, the University of Pennsylvania launched three free courses via Coursera, an online educational platform designed to make Web-based classes available more widely.   

With the capacity to reach millions of people simultaneously, Coursera has a design inspired by educational research on effective learning practices and creates an interactive learning experience for the course offerings. 

So far, more than 50,000 people from around the world have enrolled in these three online courses, all stemming from Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine:

Discussing pharmacology and its role in medical science, Meagher addresses basic pharmacological principles, applying them to each organ system, the clinical application of applied pharmacology, the financial implications of therapy, evidence-based medicine, drug therapy’s limitations, the legal implications of writing prescriptions, advanced pharmacological principles and the future of drug therapies.

Addressing issues regarding vaccines and vaccine safety, Offit explores the history of vaccines, different strategies in making vaccines, the benefits of vaccination in the United States and abroad and vaccination-related risks and controversies, as well as the answers to frequently asked questions that parents have about vaccines.

This class looks at the health system’s current climate in the U.S. With 50 million uninsured Americans and an uneven quality of care, the Affordable Care Act is slated to dramatically restructure the system.  Emanuel discusses the American health care system’s history and structure; the challenges surrounding access, cost and quality; the medical malpractice conundrum; the history and challenges of health care reform; and how the Affordable Care Act improves access and quality, as well as how it controls costs.

During the eight-week-long courses, recorded video lectures offer frequent quizzes that reinforce concepts, as well as deeper assignments that test students’ understanding and build mastery of the material.  The Coursera platform also has community forums that encourage students to participate actively with classmates from around the globe.

Penn partnered with Coursera to offer these free classes online to build a stronger connection with its alumni and the world.  It provides Penn alumni the opportunity to take classes online and stay abreast of developments and research in their fields, but also it illustrates the Penn Compact, Penn President Amy Gutmann’s vision for the University to achieve worldwide distinction in interdisciplinary scholarship and collaborative engagement, propelling Penn from excellence to eminence in its core endeavors of teaching, research and service.

“Penn is delighted to participate in this innovative collaboration that will make high-quality learning opportunities available to millions of people around the world,” Gutmann says. “Expanding access to higher education both nationally and globally remains one of our most critical responsibilities. This initiative provides an invaluable opportunity for anyone who has the motivation and preparation to partake of a world-class education."

By sharing this educational content online for free, Penn and Coursera allows people from all walks of life to be exposed to the level of quality of Penn’s faculty and educational ideologies.  But, Coursera is only a small piece of the overall educational experience at Penn.

“Coursera allows me to share some of the same content we offer at Penn to tens of thousands of people around the world -- almost all of whom could never come to Penn either because they are in other countries, cannot afford it, are at different stages in life or just are not pursuing a specific degree but want to learn more about a complex topic like health policy,” Emanuel says.  “Educating the public to have a more informed citizenry -- both in the United States and throughout the world -- is the essential mission of a university.  We are now able to reach more people than ever in realizing our mission.  It is a challenge to develop good online courses but also a wonderful opportunity.”

A total of 12 Penn faculty members are scheduled to teach free online courses through Coursera.  Future course offerings include:

Benjamin Abella, “Cardiac Arrest, Hypothermia and Resuscitation Science”
Robert Ghrist, “Calculus: Single Variable”
Al Filreis, “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry”
Roy Hamilton, “Basic Behavioral Neurology”
John Hoganesch, “Introduction to Genome Science”
Michael Kearns, “Networked Life”
Carol Muller, “Listening to World Music”
Peter Struck“Greek and Roman Mythology”
Kevin Werbach, “Gamification”

“It’s been amazing to see the Penn faculty’s enthusiasm when it comes to innovative ways of teaching and learning.” says Deirdre Woods, interim executive director of the Open Learning Initiative at Penn.  “Embracing online learning communities is an opportunity to shape the conversation about the future of education and clearly there’s a demand for the wealth of knowledge that Penn has to share.

“In addition, this is one way that we can bring what we learn out in the field back to Penn, where we can incorporate these lessons learned into our traditional classrooms.  These courses are rigorous in nature and participating in Coursera allows people to get a better sense of the overall educational experience one can receive at an Ivy League university.”

Other institutions of higher education that offer online classes using the Coursera platform include Princeton University, the University of Michigan, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Coursera was founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Stanford computer science professors, in the fall of 2011.  It builds on the technology they helped develop that was used to host Stanford’s free online classes.  

Additional information and registration are available on the Coursera Web site.