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Thousands enroll in U.Va.'s free online courses

Sunday - 10/14/2012, 3:23pm  ET

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - The University of Virginia's new non-credit online courses have drawn thousands of students but professors wonder how many will complete the offerings.

As of last week, The Daily Progress says enrollments for the six classes range from less than 10,000 to more than 35,000 students.

In the next semester, the university will offer the massive open online courses, or MOOCs, through online platform Coursera's Internet-based learning system.

The school's large enrollment is likely due to a general appetite for such courses, particularly those offered by a respected university, said James L. Hilton, UVa's vice president and chief information officer.

"Actually, MOOCs may redefine normal _ a residential, face-to-face class," Hilton told the newspaper.

But physics professor Louis A. Bloomfield, who will teach one of the courses, expects enrollment to drop as a result of teaching a massive open online course as a serious U.Va. college course.

"I have no intention of diminishing my course just to boost or maintain its enrollment," Bloomfield told the newspaper in an email. "Instead, I'll try to produce such compelling content that students will think twice before dropping out."

Philosophy professor Michael Green said students in his Coursera class will not be graded much farther than assessing whether they completed assignments.

"I think it's an open question how many of the students that enroll ... are going to be sufficiently self-motivated to answer these questions in a way that shows real engagement," he said.

Professors also are grappling with the logistics of teaching and communicating with thousands of students in one course.

"My attitude is that, in shifting from the live classroom to the MOOCs, I'm going to give up the conversation I know and love from the classroom, but I'm going to get something in exchange for it," Bloomfield said.

But some demonstrations work better in person or with the student performing them, he said.

"It's not magic. It's really how the world works," he said. "There is value in the live experience."

Online higher education delivery was among topics that came to light as issues related to U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan's dismissal, announced June 10 _ and in discussions leading up to her reinstatement more than two weeks later.

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Information from: The Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)