Udacity and Coursera: An Opportunity to Educate All | By Sydney Rudko

On September 14th the University of Alberta announced that Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun will travel to the university for a speech on September 21. Udacity, along with other organizations like Coursera, offers prestigious university to students, all online and for free. Recently, The Wanderer Online has been weighing-in on education: how we are taught, and how to get the most out of our education.  This got me thinking about the kinds of courses the university could offer through these services and through a partnership with Coursera/Udacity. I don’t see the purpose of offering traditional university courses; if someone wants to take intro economics or biology, they can do so just about anywhere. I feel the university should focus on courses that have practical value, specifically in public education.

1.    Health and Nutrition:  Given the obesity crisis, I think a basic nutrition course would be a great asset to people looking to stay healthy. It would be great to outline some basic physiology and metabolism, diseases related to obesity and then switch focus to eating healthy and exercise.

2.    Environmental Science: This is obviously a hot topic in Alberta, and I think many Albertans are close to clueless when it comes to climate change and the impact of human development on our ecosystems. The class could cover basic ecology, touching on the carbon and nitrogen cycles and then could move into climate change and possible solutions for the future.

3.    Emerging Diseases: Obviously this is a topic close to my heart. A class that talks about bacteria and viruses, increasing antibiotic resistance, and emerging diseases would be both interesting and extremely useful in disseminating a lot of public health myths about vaccination, antibiotic use, and other issues surrounding disease and containment.

4.    The Future Of Energy: This class could focus on new and emerging energy technologies as alternatives for oil and gas. A no-brainer in our province.

5.    Mini Medical School: I hope you’ve seen the advertisements for this around campus; basically it’s a series of night classes that are designed to educate the general public on various aspects of health! I think this would be ideal for an online study.

6.    Stats 101: This class wouldn’t actually focus on stats. It would instead demonstrate how statistics are used by governments, organizations and the media to alter public perception on issues.

CC photograph courtesy of “dave.cournoyer” on Flickr


7.    Politics 101:  This class is a prerequisite for discussing politics with me. It would involve understanding the basics. For instance, the difference between a conservative and a liberal, the basic workings of the government, differences between the American and Canadian political systems. We could offer advanced courses in Media Relations, Introduction to Harper, and Filibuster.

I think this is such a fantastic opportunity for the university to insert itself into the education of a broader audience, and as such I hope they offer courses that are practical at the core and target a wide variety of skill levels and understandings.

Tell me what you think in the comments! Lend your suggestions! You never know who is reading these posts.

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