Hebrew U — now anytime, anywhere, and for free

Israel’s premier higher education institution will be enrolling students from around the world over the Internet

A Coursera in-course quiz for students working over the Internet (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A Coursera in-course quiz for students working over the Internet (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Hebrew University, already a world-class educational institution off-line, will now be joining other universities online, as it implements courses over Internet, open to anyone, anywhere, at anytime — similar to courses at MIT, Princeton, and Stanford.

The new courses are the result of a deal with Coursera, the brainchild of two Stanford University graduates. The site offers some 200 undergraduate and graduate courses in a broad range of disciplines, including medicine, literature, history and computer science, among others. Students can view lectures by top professors in their fields, and along with lectures, courses may include assignments, exams, online and in-person discussion forums, and more.

Some of the courses offer certificates, and all include tests, homework, and all the other trappings of a “real” college course. Courses run between six and 10 weeks, and so far, over a million students from 196 countries (about 12,000 from Israel) are enrolled in the (currently) non-credit courses. The difference between Coursera courses and other online learning experiences, say the site’s founders, is the intensity of the work, the ability to interact with professors, and the way interaction, feedback, and testing are structured, as well as the quality of teaching.

Hebrew University is the first Israeli school to join the program, and will be contributing its own special Israeli “spice” to the Coursera mix. The school will initially offer three courses, with the goal of adding more over time. The courses will be taught by Prof. Idan Segev, head of the Department of Neurobiology and member of the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation; Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, director of the Center for Bioengineering; and Prof. Jonathan Garb, the 2010 recipient of the Hebrew University President’s Prize for Outstanding Researcher, who teaches at the Department of Jewish Thought at the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies.

The new collaboration with Hebrew University is a sort of homecoming for Daphne Koller, one of Coursera’s founders, who herself received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school. Koller presented the project at the 2011 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design conference) as a way to democratize higher education. Although, she said, most Americans were concerned with the rising cost of health care, higher education costs have risen even further, jumping 550% since 1985. As many as half of those who do graduate are unable to get jobs in their fields.

That, of course, is not true of those at the top institutions; they can have any job they want, and in their own fields. In order to “share the wealth,” Koller and her partner Andrew Ng started Coursera.

Koller said that she was very pleased with the new arrangement. “Coursera is dedicated to creating better educational opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and we could not do it without the blessing and commitment of universities,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have the support of top academic institutions like Hebrew University as we move toward our shared goal of providing a high-quality education to everyone around the world.”

Hebrew University President Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said that “Hebrew University’s mission is to share our knowledge and research with the world, and we welcome this opportunity join with other top universities to satisfy the worldwide hunger for education. Technology will play an ever-increasing role in the delivery of knowledge to diverse populations, from university students to people who have no access to formal learning.

“We are particularly impressed by Coursera’s vision, technology platform, and focus on partnering with top-tier universities to make quality content available outside the classroom. We look forward to learning from this experience in offering massive open online courses,” Ben-Sasson added.

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