Current Issue

May16, 2012

Vol. 112, No. 12

Campus Notebook

Princeton joins consortium to offer free online classes

By W. Raymond Ollwerther ’71
Published in the May16, 2012, issue

Clayton Marsh ’85
Clayton Marsh ’85

Princeton is teaming up with Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania to make lectures and other classroom materials available online for free.

The four schools are partnering with Coursera (, a company founded last year by two Stanford computer-science professors. Coursera’s offerings include video lectures with interactive quizzes and assignments and discussion forums. No credit or certificate will be offered to those who take the classes.

Among the 39 courses listed by Coursera in an April 18 announcement were eight by Princeton faculty members: “Introduction to Sociology,” taught by Professor Mitchell Duneier; “A History of the World Since 1300” by Professor Jeremy Adelman; two courses on analytic combinatorics by Professor Robert Sedgewick; two courses on algorithms by Sedgewick and senior lecturer Kevin Wayne; computer architecture by assistant professor David Wentzlaff; and statistics by senior lecturer Andrew Conway. In the first eight days, 78,000 people signed up for the Princeton offerings.

The University’s primary interest is to experiment with Web-based platforms to see how they might “enhance teaching and learning on our campus,” said Clayton Marsh ’85, deputy dean of the college. The University is paying the costs associated with developing the Coursera offerings to encourage innovations in teaching methods at Princeton, he said.

Duneier said his six-week online summer coursework “won’t be the same as my Princeton class, but will have some overlap with it.” He said he looks forward to seeing how his class translates to a global audience. “In sociology, there are a wide variety of ways of looking at a problem,” he said. “The perspectives of the people taking the class matter a great deal.”

His class will have two sessions per week: a 50-minute lecture with embedded quizzes and videos, and a seminar-style discussion of course readings. Essays will be evaluated through peer grading; there will be midterm and final exams.

Both Marsh and Duneier stressed that there is much more to learning at Princeton than what will be offered through Coursera, in terms of both student/faculty interaction and the residential-college experience.

Click here to browse the current Princeton offerings on Coursera.

Post Comments
8 Responses to Princeton joins consortium to offer free online classes

John Osander '57 Says:

2012-05-14 12:27:48

Like to be on any mailing list. Terrific opportunity. Thanks, folks.

Michael L. Sena '69 *72 Says:

2012-05-14 13:29:12

('69 A.B. architecture; *72 master's of architecture and urban planning) I wrote my undergraduate and graduate theses on computer-aided education and vouchers, and the architectural and urban planning consequence of these innovations. I am therefore no stranger to or opponent of the idea of online learning I offer a word of caution, however, to freebie courses. There are individuals who would highly value a degree from Princeton (or Harvard, Yale, and maybe even Stanford) without having to endure the four years of living in dorms and attending classes on the university premises. As I have traveled around the world and seen the so-called satellite campuses, I wonder what the people back at Nassau Hall are thinking. Putting the curriculum on the Internet to "see how a class transfers to a global audience" seems to be using the reputation of the University to promote the interests of an individual professor without considering the possible ramifications on the future of the University. It is possible that the future university will be virtual, just as I had proposed in 1969 that students could learn wherever and whenever they wished, but my idea was for remedial purposes and for providing education opportunities where there were none. Before Princeton begins acting like an upstart social-network company, it should consider the full range of eventual outcomes. So far, I have not seen any public (Princeton students and alumni) discussion on this important subject.

Mika Provata-Carlone *02 s'00 Says:

2012-05-15 09:34:21

What an exemplary idea. It can only enhance the University's strong position as an academic institution whose foremost aim is teaching and education in its deepest sense. I agree that a carefully structured framework would be most essential. But I also believe that this is Socrates for our age. A University that becomes a mentor figure, an inspiration and a path to a wiser, more thoughtful life. I would be delighted to be on any related mailing list, please, and I know students from every country will be able to see what Princeton, four extraordinary years of it, can add to their lives, to their minds and to their hearts. I can only see it as an invitation, a gesture of inclusion, certainly not as a supplement or an alternative to a "real" P.U. degree. And I can only say thank you to those who must have worked hard to implement it.

F. Marion Thomson *62 Says:

2012-05-15 09:45:38

Sounds interesting. When and how do we access it?

Ray Ollwerther '71 Says:

2012-05-15 09:46:22

This link takes you to the Coursera page that lists the current Princeton offerings, and includes a way to sign up to be notified when additional Princeton courses are announced:

John Cardwell '68 p'99 Says:

2012-05-15 15:40:06

I am surprised that Princeton is joining this pilot initiative. What is its mission, vision, and values and how is it being evaluated? What are its implications for the current diversity movement on campus? How will Princeton's brand be affected? And are the trustees behind it?

Katharina Heddendorp Says:

2012-08-20 15:05:11

I live in Antwerp, Belgium, and I love this idea! I will follow the lecture from Professor Mitchell Duneier and "A History of the World Since 1300" by Professor Jeremy Adelman. I look forward, Katharina Heddendorp

Lori Pryor Says:

2013-01-28 10:05:06

How do I obtain a list of free online courses offered at Princeton University starting March or April 2014?
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