UF Holds Academic Symposium to Discuss the Future of Higher Education

By: Alex Rivera

WUFT-FM

The University of Florida’s historic University Auditorium was abuzz as numerous UF faculty and staff came together to discuss the future of higher education and what incoming technology regarding online education may have on land-grant universities.

The symposium, “Bricks and Mortar in a Digital Age: The Uncertain Future of Higher Education,” was held in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created land-grant universities such as UF, and covered numerous topics, including the evolution of online courses.

In a summit titled “The Online Revolution: Learning without Limits,” co-founder of social entrepreneurship company Coursera Daphne Koller spoke about the future of online courses. Founded in April 2012, Coursera is a company which allows students in 62 universities, including UF, worldwide to access online courses in all subject areas for free, and in today’s world, with the cost of higher education increasing each year, more students are becoming more comfortable with the idea of enrolling in online classes. 

In its beginning stages, Coursera opened up three Stanford University computer science courses to the general public. At Stanford, only 400 students can enroll in these classes, but with Coursera, there were over 100,000 enrollees, making them more accessible to students who cannot afford a higher education at Stanford prices. Thus, “MOOCs,” or Massively Open Online Courses, were born.

Coursera has definitely expanded since last April, now offering 333 courses in a variety of subjects and with 3.2 million students enrolled internationally. Coursera sees an enrollment rate of 1.45 million students per month worldwide, and has since made more progress this year. 

MOOCs are structured as regular on-campus classes, with lectures and homework assignments being offered every week. Advantages to MOOCs include a more personal experience between the student and the professor, with live video streaming between students and instructors in whichever way the student learns best (for example, in gamification classes, professors format themselves as actual game characters so that students can actively learn and interact in the gaming environment). Students also can interact with each other via peer grading and student forums, and may even be able to receive college credit via Coursera.

However, the greatest advantage is that students who normally have not been able to receive an education now have the chance to do so.

UF currently offers four Coursera courses in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The symposium will continue until 7:00PM in the University Auditorium, and can be followed along via Twitter by using “#UFHigherEd.”

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