The University of California, Santa Cruz will become one of 62 university campuses from around the world to offer free online courses to the public through the popular Coursera platform. Twenty-nine new partner schools, including UC Santa Cruz, were named in an announcement today by the Silicon Valley company.

Launched in April 2012 with Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania as its initial partners, Coursera already makes available more than 200 MOOC ("massively open online course") offerings to the general public.

"At UC Santa Cruz, faculty already use technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience of our own students," said UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal. "This partnership with Coursera represents an important new step that will teach us, in partnership with other leading universities, significantly more about the ways in which web-based instruction can most effectively complement our traditional means of instruction."

Blumenthal said the partnership also makes UCSC a key player in the movement to "democratize" higher education. "In the process of partnering with Coursera, we will be expanding the reach of UCSC faculty — and the knowledge they create — to people who are unable to join our on-campus community."

Anyone with an Internet connection can take a Coursera course. The online courses include lectures, other instructional resources, and quizzes and tests — with students interacting primarily through discussion groups and message boards. Students who successfully complete a course receive Coursera acknowledgement and, with some courses, can request certification or a recommendation for credit from the American Council on Education; to date, five Coursera courses have received an ACE credit recommendation.

"The invitation to participate from Coursera and its partner schools, including many of the world's top universities, reflects very positively on the campus and its faculty," said Ira Pohl, serving UCSC Provost Allison Galloway as senior advisor for online courses. "Our mission is to create and share knowledge, and MOOCs are an increasingly important way of connecting people from around the world to our faculty members, who are eminent scholars on a range of subjects."

UCSC is in various stages of preparing its first three offerings on Coursera:

• The Holocaust, which will be taught by UCSC faculty members Murray Baumgarten (professor of English and comparative literature) and Peter Kenez (professor emeritus of history).

• Children Acquiring Literacy Naturally, which will be taught by Dominic Massaro, a UCSC research professor in psychology.

• C++ For C Programmers, which will be taught by Pohl, a professor of computer science at UCSC's Baskin School of Engineering.

Galloway is excited by the potential that the partnership with Coursera has to enhance the campus's knowledge of this rapidly growing medium. "Our involvement will help us better understand what works and what doesn't in the online world of instruction; how online instruction can complement what UCSC already does — and does very well — in a traditional classroom setting."

The campus is just now beginning to consider how and when it will develop additional courses on the Coursera platform, Galloway said. "I would like to add one of my own courses — on forensic anthropology — to the UCSC lineup."

The new Coursera partnership adds to several efforts under way at UCSC to augment or improve instruction through the delivery of online courses.

• Three UCSC instructors are participating in UC Online Ed, a systemwide effort established to expand access to UC curriculum. Brent Haddad, a professor of environmental studies and associate dean of engineering for technology management at UCSC, taught a water resources course this past fall. Professor of mathematics Anthony Tromba and math lecturer Frank Bäuerle are also in the process of developing a calculus course.

• UC Santa Cruz Extension already offers hundreds of online courses — all of which are eligible for Extension certificate credit and some of which are available for UC credit through the campus's concurrent enrollment program. These fee-based courses can also provide important "distance learning" opportunities for UCSC students, including UCSC students accessing the campus's engineering curriculum from labs in Extension's Santa Clara offices. UCSC's engineering school is also exploring the possibility of increasing Master of Engineering degree opportunities through UCSC's Extension online platform.

• A large number of traditional UCSC courses are already technology enhanced through the campus's Sakai (eCommons) platform. Online discussions, recorded lectures, and other supplements to traditional courses are offered there as so-called "hybrid instruction," said Jim Phillips, director of learning technologies at UCSC. The Coursera partnership, he adds, "affords us another opportunity to learn much more about the delivery of online instruction."

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Editor's Note: UCSC faculty member Ira Pohl is available to comment on the campus's partnership with Coursera, as well as other UCSC online activities. To contact him, please call UCSC Public Affairs at 831-459-2495. For more information about Coursera, please contact Iz Conroy at 415-625-8555 (office) or 423-364-5611 (cell).

Related: Two UCSC people published op-eds this past weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle, contributing to the growing public discussion about online education:

• Tracy Larrabee is a professor of computer engineering and chair of the Committee on Educational Policy for UCSC's Academic Senate. Read her op-ed.

• Nwadiuto Amajoyi is chair of UCSC's Student Union Assembly. Read her op-ed.