EDUCATION

UVA to offer free online courses

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The University of Virginia plans to offer free online courses under an agreement announced Tuesday, about a month after its president briefly was fired in part for her perceived hesitation to embrace online education.

Online platform Coursera said that U.Va. is among 12 institutions that plan to offer the free, non-credit courses through its Internet-based learning system. The Charlottesville school and Coursera said they had worked for several months to reach the deal, which involves no exchange of funds.

Other U.S. institutions in the agreement announced Tuesday include Duke, Rice and Johns Hopkins universities, Georgia Tech, the universities of Washington and Illinois, the University of California - San Francisco and the California Institute of Technology. The three foreign schools are Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and the universities of Toronto and Edinburgh.

U.Va.'s initial offerings in 2013 will include three courses from the College of Arts & Sciences and one from the Darden School of Business.

President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday that the courses will help raise U.Va.'s profile as a global higher education leader and reinforce its core missions of teaching, research and public service.

"They will in no way diminish the value of a U.Va. degree, but rather enhance our brand and allow others to experience the learning environment of Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village," Sullivan said in a statement, referring to the university founder's ideal of shared, lifelong education.

Online higher education delivery was among topics that came to light as issues related to Sullivan's dismissal, announced June 10 - and in discussions leading up to her reinstatement more than two weeks later.

Emails between Board of Visitors members that became public showed forwarded articles about the so-called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, including Coursera's initial partnership with Stanford and Princeton universities and the universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania.

In remarks made to the board about a week after her ouster, Sullivan discussed some concerns about digital delivery.

"There is room for carefully implemented online learning in selected fields, but online instruction is no panacea," she said. "It is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential, and unless carefully managed, can undermine the quality of instruction."

Some faculty members have said delivering content online to students doesn't necessarily ensure that they become educated.

U.Va. Rector Helen Dragas said in a statement that U.Va. needs to experiment with new technological initiatives "to see what works and what doesn't."

The for-profit Coursera was founded by Stanford computer scientists Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. A similar venture is edX, a nonprofit partnership between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is planning to launch courses in the fall.

Udacity, another startup, is a for-profit operation that partners with individual faculty members to deliver courses online.

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