NTU to offer free online courses to engage wider audience

Professor Vijay Sethi -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Professor Vijay Sethi -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

It aims to engage wider audience, attract applicants

FROM next year, you do not have to be a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student to attend lessons by the world's best business teacher, Professor Vijay Sethi. The 53-year-old information technology expert will be among three professors from the university to offer free online courses for the first time.

NTU, which is partnering United States-based online education company Coursera, is the second local university after the National University of Singapore to announce plans for massive open online courses, or Moocs for short. Worldwide, more than 80 universities, including Stanford, Brown and Yale, offer free courses through Coursera.

NTU's president, Professor Bertil Andersson, said the university aims to engage a wider international audience through Moocs. "We recognise there is rising interest globally for open online courses by top universities, including leading Asian universities like NTU. By making several of our courses accessible to anyone from anywhere in the world... hopefully more will be enticed to come and study here."

Prof Sethi, who earlier this year beat business dons from 31 countries to be named the "world's best business educator" by the Economist Intelligence Unit, will teach a course in e-commerce and technology. It is the same course he delivers to master's students at the Nanyang Business School, but teaching it online will mean doing some things differently.

For one, he is planning on getting his online students to take part in class discussions. He also hopes to make the course accessible to those without an information technology background.

The professor was attracted by how online courses make top-tier university education accessible to all. "We are a public institution serving Singaporeans, but why not go wider," said Prof Sethi.

Asked whether the Economist award, which involved delivering a lecture to a live classroom audience in London, will raise expectations among his students, he said he believes in pushing himself.

"The award has led to people paying more attention to my lectures and as a result, they get more out of it. So it has been a good thing."

His colleague, Professor Tim White from the School of Materials Science, will teach "Beauty, Form and Function: An Exploration of Symmetry". Professor Roderick Bates, from NTU's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, will provide an introductory course in forensic science.

The three courses, which are six to eight weeks long, will include videos, animation, quizzes and assignments.

NTU, which said it is considering offering certificates for those who finish these online courses, has also lined up another for 2015. World-renowned geologist and director of NTU's Earth Observatory of Singapore, Professor Kerry Sieh, is slated to teach a course on natural hazards.

It is estimated that millions of people worldwide have plugged into this growing online learning channel. The latest figures released in March this year by Coursera showed that there were over 15,000 from Singapore taking its courses.

sandra@sph.com.sg