Vandy’s Free Online Classes Quickly Enroll Thousands

In a little over a week, more than 24 thousand people have signed up for free online classes from Vanderbilt. The school is joining a host of other elite colleges clamoring to experiment with so-called massive open online courses.

Vanderbilt is partnering with Coursera, the brainchild of a couple computer-science professors from Stanford. It’s one of several companies trying to figure out how such un-credited classes can ultimately pay for themselves. Top schools like Princeton, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania have signed on.

“It’s important to Vanderbilt to be a player.”

Associate Provost Cynthia Cyrus says it’s a chance to build experience with the technology – not something Vandy’s had much of, outside its nursing school.

So next spring it will offer five free classes through Coursera, on subjects from nutrition to online games – all of which have quickly enrolled thousands.

“The question of how many students will finish out is a whole different question than how many started the process of taking the course.”

Cyrus says what Vanderbilt offers online going forward depends in large part on what comes of this pilot with Coursera.

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