Yes, free online courses are now being offered by universities. Karen Harpp, a professor at Colgate University, has opened her course, “The Advent of the Atomic Bomb,” to university alumni and others who make a special request to join. Harpp believed it would be hard for today’s students to imagine living in 1945, experiencing a world war, or for most, serving in the military. With online classes, alumni have the opportunity to share their experiences, which can lead to class discussions getting more interesting.
The first time the online course opened Colgate hoped to enroll 238 students, but it surpassed that goal with 380 alumni. Another course that was offered, “Living Writers”, had 678 alumni enrolled. Ms. Harpp noticed that alumni who had graduated after 2000 were very interested in having access to the course material but less interested in engaging with the students. Older alumni from the Class of 1980 and earlier were most excited to talk with current Colgate students, challenging them on their thoughts and opinions on nuclear warfare. Colgate calls its class and others like it “fusion” courses because there are in-person courses for Colgate students with an additional online component that brings in alumni. The goal of these classes is not just to involve alumni, but to also invite the community to engage with students through online technology.
Now more universities are using free online courses as a form of engaging students with personal experiences that deal with the course content. Harvard University began offering such courses to graduates last year and the University of Wisconsin at Madison plans to offer six courses for their alumni. Now courses are being opened to the community and to various book clubs. With the help of technology and open dialog students receive a new and convenient way to promote “lifelong learning” while incorporating the community.
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Fabris, Casey. “One Reason to Offer Free Online Courses: Alumni Engagement.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 12 Jan. 2015. Web.