Coursera Chief: Reach of Teaching Will Define Great Universities

19 Jun

By Steve Kolowich

In October 1993, in his first major speech as president of Yale University, Richard C. Levin talked about the importance of Yale’s becoming a “world university.” Great universities have a responsibility to drive global change, he said, and they achieve that primarily by nurturing future leaders and world-changing research inside their walled gardens.

This spring, after two decades at the helm of Yale, Mr. Levin took a job as chief executive of Coursera, the online-education company. His views on the responsibilities of the “world university” have not changed, but for a crucial detail: The great universities of the 21st century will not just teach an exclusive subset of the ruling class; they will teach everybody.

“In 10 or 20 years, when we judge the great universities, it will not just be on their research but on the reach of their teaching,” Mr. Levin told The Chronicle on Wednesday.

That perspective dovetails, of course, with the mission of the company Mr. Levin now leads. Coursera, which teams up with traditional universities to provide free, online versions of their courses, has its own lofty ambitions as a global-change agent: “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education,” reads the company’s mission statement.

To the extent that Coursera is helping universities expand the reach of their teaching, Mr. Levin’s redefinition of the responsibility of “great universities” as world-teachers is opportune.

Mr. Levin has taken over at a time when Coursera is still trying to figure out how to reach students who are underrepresented in traditional higher education. Last fall researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that people taking that university’s MOOCs tended to be better educated than the public—and that this was particularly true in foreign countries.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in MOOCs in the News


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