Top universities offering free online courses for all

Image: Colecamp CC-BY
Image: Colecamp CC-BY

Several online university and college courses have spring up over the last few years, offering a wide range of free lectures, videos, and other course content. What are some of the available options?

MIT Open Courseware
MIT’s Open Courseware site was first set up in 2002 with 50 courses. Today it offers over 1800 courses online, for free. Anyone with Internet access can download lecture notes, videos, and even exams. Courses are offered from a wide range of disciplines including the humanities, sciences, and the arts.

Courses in information technology and computer science include Java Preparation, Artificial Intelligence, and Introductions to Algorithms. A full list of courses can be found here. MIT also have a very useful section of Open Courseware material which is specifically aimed at high school teachers and students.

Harvard Extension School
Some of Harvard Extension Schools’ online classes are free to download, including the popular Computer Science E-1: Understanding Computers and the Internet which offers a clear introduction to what’s going on behind the scenes inside computers. The licence allows this material to be adapted by other teachers (with some restrictions), and some of the content could be very useful to ITGS students learning the fundamentals of hardware, software, and networks.

Udacity is an online university set up by Stanford research professor Sebastian Thrun, well known for his role in the development of the autonomous vehicle Stanley. Udacity offers a limited number of courses at the moment, focusing mainly on computer science, but its range is expanding. Unlike other free online courses, Udacity offers students a certificate upon completion of the course.

This BBC Click video discusses possible benefits compared to traditional lecture halls, has interviews with some of the professors involved, and explains how the course material is created.

iTunes U
iTunes U is a section of the iTunes Store which offers access to free educational content. Courses are available from many providers, with some of the more well known ones being Oxford University, Cambridge University, Stanford, the Open University, and UC Berkley. Harvard also has its free material here.

Explore the web sites and downloads described above and answer the following questions.

  1. Identify two software items a student needs to take online classes [2 marks]
  2. Identify two hardware items needed to conduct online classes [2 marks]
  3. Describe two ways organisations like Udacity could finance their free online courses [4 marks]
  4. Explain why some university professors might be reluctant to implement online classes. [4 marks]To what extent can free online classes reduce the need for paid university or college classes? [8 marks]

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