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University of Florida classes to be available on free course website

The upcoming University of Florida online courses will appear similar to Stanford and others schools' system through Coursera.

Online students will soon be able to get a free look into the University of Florida learning experience.

The University  announced on Sept. 19 that it will be among 17 universities that have signed agreements with Coursera, a free online learning website that provides courses from an international roster of universities to more than a million students.

Other universities that have joined Coursera include Brown and Columbia University.

There are currently six different courses available from UF, according to the Coursera website, with topics ranging from music to agriculture.

Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology at UF, said the university had been in conversations with Coursera about six weeks before the announcement was made.

McCollough said Coursera had been interested in UF for many reasons, including the fact that the university is a land-grant school. Coursera had not previously had any courses in agriculture, which allowed UF to establish a niche in the Coursera portfolio.

The starting dates for the UF courses are  listed as “to be announced” on Coursera. McCollough said UF is working on the courses right now and that it is possible they will be available on Coursera by the beginning of 2013.

George Hochmuth, a professor from the UF Soil and Water Science Department, will be teaching a class on sustainable agriculture and urban land management on Coursera.

“I’m curious to see how many people out there are interested in this topic,” he said.

Hochmuth said the class on Coursera will be a bit different from previous online courses he has taught before. He plans to make the content more interactive by providing videos that show the topics he will be discussing in his class, as opposed to a simple video lecture of him speaking in a classroom.

Hochmuth said the goal of this movement was to make course material available to a wider audience.

“I like to think it will have a positive impact,” he said.

Wendell Porter, a professor from the UF Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, will be teaching a course on global sustainable energy on Coursera. He said the draw for him was getting to use new technology to teach his online course.

He said Coursera courses will have more of a focus on self-moderating, with more peer-to-peer grading and more online student interaction.

“This is going to widen the net on people who can take a course,” he said.

While the courses available on the website are free, they cannot be used as credit at the affiliated university.

McCollough said users can tap into a vast knowledge source at no cost and take any course of interest.

“I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be worth it,” he said.

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