Take online free classes with Ivy League universities!

I never imagined it would come to this but it brings me such delight to find out that the university where I earned my MBA degree, University of Pennsylvania, is one of several leading Ivy League schools in the U.S. that signed up with Coursera, a new venture that offers online classes for free. Yes…FREE!


So far, here is the list of top universities signed up with Coursera. Imagine, you can take a course from, let’s say, Stanford University, then take another course with John Hopkins or University of Michigan.

And here are the general course topics. Under each of these general categories are specific classes you can choose to take.

In their About Us page, the Coursera team describes themselves this way:

We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.

Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

The methodology being employed by Coursera is adapted to today’s busy lifestyle. Unlike a classroom approach where you need to be physically away from your work and devote time to class work, the Coursera approach, which by the way, is developed and taught by world-class professors, allows you to learn at your own pace, taking into consideration that you can only study in bits of time. The lessons are designed in such a way that you can read and reread till you master the course material. Interactive exercises will test your knowledge as well as reinforce concepts. And, you can monitor your own progress so you know exactly when you are considered to have mastered the subject.

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Xavier School Turns Virtual

Just five days after I blogged about how technology could be used by schools in the wake of the A(H1N1) virus, Xavier School suspended classes for 10 days after one student tested positive for the virus.

Was this a setback for the school? If you’re thinking in traditional mode, yes. Teachers & students could not come together in class for interactive learning. But did that stop Xavier? Absolutely not. The school turned the forced vacation into an opportunity to launch what we now call “virtual Xavier”.

From the time Fr. Johnny Go, S.J. became its School Director several years back, Xavier School slowly began transforming the school, the faculty, the curriculum, and the students into technology enablers. This move served the school well this week.

The day classes were suspended, the school’s official website crashed (probably due to the unexpected traffic on the server as parents and students alike went online to check the next steps.)

It was not long before an alternate site went up, Virtual Xavier (www.virtualxavier.ning.com)

Ning alternate site

Virtual Xavier as it looked the first time it was put up

Next thing we knew, Multiply sites PER LEVEL were created. By this coming Monday, June 29, parents and students alike can go to the Multiply site of their son’s level and download online lessons uploaded by their teachers. In fact, some of these sites already have some content in them like this:

Gr1 Multiply homepage

I believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as what Xavier School (or any other technology-enabled institution) can do. What is important at this stage is the fact they are proving that learning does not stop just because teachers & students cannot come to school. Education can continue for as long as technology enables them to. There are many other things I can see evolving in terms of virtual schooling (podcasting, livestreaming, videoconferencing, online chatrooms, online collaborative projects, Skype-ing, and so on) and I predict Xavier School can be at the forefront of this.  At the moment, it already has some of the infrastructure: computer literate faculty & staff, excellent IT labs, students who are almost all techie savvy, and parents who are getting there (some probably forced to learn out of necessity).

Here is a screencap from an article posted just yesterday in their school website. It shows the forward-looking state of the school.

Effective online education

I am hoping that other schools in the Philippines seriously consider putting more money into technology-based learning. Not just because of the spread of A(H1N1). This, to me, was just the catalyst for Xavier School. But I believe that if we can equip the current and future generations of citizens for a tech world, we can bring this country that much closer to elevating the state of education.

There is another side to consider too. The Department of Education and Culture (DECS) has to modify its guidelines to include learning outside of the classroom.  Right now, for example, we count actual school days (read that as IN SCHOOL). On occasions like this when a school is actually allowing students to accomplish schoolwork during the quarantine period, doesn’t this count (to some extent) as school days? There is a need for paradigm shifts in mindset as to what constitutes learning.  Learning is no longer just classroom-bound. If field trips are considered learning time, online work (for as long as there are guidelines established in terms of hours spent) should count as well. I have other thoughts about virtual education that can address the sore lack of brick-and-mortar classrooms but I will leave that for another day and possibly another blog post.

For now, I am just happy to see Xavier School evolving, innovating and creating. If we can think out of the box and use all the tools available to us, school can be just about anywhere we can imagine it to be — even when we are in pajamas, propped up in bed, with our laptops.

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