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Online classes keep learning local

Internet courses bridge cross-cultural divide among universities

May 17,2014
Nam Yun-yi, a junior economics major, recently enrolled in a financial markets class at Yale University.

The course, taught by Professor Robert Shiller, a 2013 Nobel laureate in economics, consists of 37 lectures over eight weeks. Students are required to submit an essay, take eight quizzes and pass a final test. Only those whose grades are within the top 70 percent of the class will pass.

But Nam, 22, is not a Yale student; she attends Sookmyung Women’s University in Yongsan District, central Seoul. And through Coursera, an educational technology company that offers open online courses, she can transcend borders to fulfill her educational goals.

“I’ve dreamed of studying abroad, but my financial status didn’t allow me to,” Nam said. “I’m thrilled to have found an alternative.”

Established in 2012, Coursera cooperates with universities worldwide to offer online classes in business, humanities, engineering, medicine, computer science and social sciences, among others. As of last Thursday, the company had approximately 7.6 million students representing 109 institutions enrolled in 647 courses.

Coursera is just a single facet of a wider educational trend that emerged two years ago known as massive open online course, or MOOC.

In countries like Korea, websites that provide online courses with unlimited participation and open access - as well as virtual communities for teachers and students - have paved the way for distance education.

Another MOOC website, edX, had more than 2.1 million students enrolled in 176 courses last month, and Udacity recorded more than 1.6 million participants in 12 courses.

“Universities like Carnegie Mellon, Arizona State, they’re starting to show that online learning can help students master the same material in less time and often at a lower cost,” U.S. President Barack Obama said last August while announcing his new college affordability plan at SUNY Buffalo, in New York.

“Georgia Tech, which is a national leader in computer science, just announced it will begin offering an online master’s degree in computer science at a fraction of the cost of a traditional class,” he added.

“But it’s just as rigorous, and it’s producing engineers who are just as good.”

Local higher education institutions are also following suit and seeing positive results.

Ten percent, or 37, of all the courses held at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (Unist) in South Gyeongsang uses MOOCs, in that students are required to listen to online lectures before class to participate in debates and problem-solving and question and answer sessions.

“Students are bound to develop creativity and English proficiency, professors can focus more on their research now that they have lighter loads and schools can reduce personnel costs,” said Im Jin-Hyouk, the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning in Unist.

For others, MOOCs provide a pathway to success.

Last year, a 17-year-old Mongolian student was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after he impressed school officials by earning a perfect score in circuits and electronics, a sophomore-level class at the institute, and its first MOOC.

“I can experience the actual courses in the universities I want to go to beforehand,” said Kim Na-hyun, a graduate of Sookmyung Women’s University, adding that she is planning to apply to Northwestern University in Illinois. “I can even write in my cover letters that I completed [their courses online].”

Seoul National University was the first local school to provide its courses online using MOOCs after it opened three courses on edX in March. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist) in Daejeon also plans on opening three courses on Coursera later this year.

“It really helps [me] to catch up on my school studies,” said Lee Sung-kyu, a graduate school student at Kaist who said he recently took online computer science classes offered by Stanford University and MIT. “I often take other courses, too, because I’m curious about how [professors at] prestigious foreign universities teach.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHEON IN-SUNG AND SHIN JIN [selee@joongang.co.kr]




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