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NUS offer free online courses

With the recent buzz on NUS offering free online courses on the internet , we shall explore the pros and cons of such a move.

Universities going online? Good or bad?

University going online has become a major change in the higher education sector around the world in recent years. Aided by modern technology, universities can upload video recording of lectures or seminars online, together with lecture notes, tutorial questions and further reading materials. Harvard, MIT, Cambridge and many more big names have all started their ambitious online classroom programs, with hundred of courses offered ranging from sciences, engineering to law, history and literature. Out of a sudden, going online has become another selling point of a university, and many players in the industry follow suit. National University of Singapore (NUS), one of the most reputable universities in Asia, has also launched its cooperation with Coursera, a popular online course portal, in recent months. Since the inception of the cooperation, the program has been debated in local media, with excitement, curiosity and, of course, caution.

Free knowledge for all, for a lifetime

NUS offer free online courses

NUS offer free online courses

Much of the expectation of the online courses stems from the unique advantages online courses have. First, because the Internet is free, online courses are also made free. It was almost unimaginable one decade ago that one could take a course from a reputable university-in fact, any university in the world-for free. But now, something that seemed too good to be true

is really coming! With a click of mouse, one can learn about composition of music, business concepts, history of Europe and even astronomy in the comfort of his room. This move will help lessen the educational inequality, a perennial issue in higher education. As long as one has access to the Internet, one can study well-structured courses whose real cost is beyond the affordability of many students. Students in China have even created their own online service that adds Chinese interactive transcript to lectures produced by foreign universities. The Internet is a fantastic tool to spread knowledge and empower people whose means limits their access to quality education.

Secondly, the online courses also satisfy the need for lifelong learning. The availability of quality courses online will benefit non-schooling adults who are under the constant pressures of continued learning and upgrading in a competitive society. A business analyst may have to update his knowledge in some economic concepts he recently encounters. A government official may have to explore the history and culture of a country where he will be visiting in a few weeks. As one can even watch or listen to online courses while he is on bus or train, he can absorb the knowledge anytime he wants. The flexibility greatly appeals to people with a busy schedule. Moreover, a variety of niche subjects online also satisfies the demand for intellectual diversion in areas of arts, philosophy and other knowledge that does not bring one immediate income, but are nevertheless the hallmark of a developed society.

What is free actually comes with cost

However, there are also drawbacks to online education. First, students are separated from professors by the Internet. The lecturers talk and students listen. If we remove the veil of the Internet, we may discover that the essence of online education is what we criticize as old fashioned pedagogue that does not involve active participation of students. Many classes, especially some humanities and social sciences classes, necessarily require students to voice out their opinions for discussions. The online courses remove the essence of such classes and the viewers may not stand to profit as much without clashes of opinions from other learners.

Secondly, the ambition to develop online courses may come at the expense of resources available to current students in university. Though NUS has promised to focus on on­campus education, such promise may not be sustained when the online initiative has developed into a full-scale program, as in the case of Berkeley or Stanford that spend huge sum of money on their online courses. The recording of videos, the creating of accompanying educational materials and the maintaining of website all demand money and manpower. And what makes that particularly problematic is the fact that NUS is a public school, much less rich than those private western universities that receive substantial private donation each year. Moreover, creating online classes also takes time away from professors, who may otherwise engage more time in teaching, consultation and research. In a word, once tradeoff has to be made, online education may compromise the quality of on-campus education.

Going ahead

Despite the potential problems associated with online courses, they are definitely a viable and desirable alternative form of education that enriches the higher education scene. While NUS is venturing into the field as a relatively late comer, the university can strategize by creating a niche in the market so as to establish its own branding. One good way to do so may be to offer courses with Asian background, such as courses on South East Asian religious issue, the development of Singapore and so on. Such classes coming from an Asian university look more “authentic”. By doing this, NUS can lessen the competition in areas such as arts and literature, the predominantly western fields.

It is important that universities capitalize on the power of the Internet to offer more diverse courses and ways of education. We are witnessing and experiencing a transformative process that is changing how learning is done in the modern era!

To find out more about the online courses offered by NUS, check out the following:

https://www.coursera.org/nus

http://newshub.nus.edu.sg/headlines/1302/coursera_22Feb13.php

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