Purdue Kicks Off Global Online-Education Project

Purdue University today joined the group of universities that have recently announced plans to experiment with online courses aimed at a global audience.

The new effort, called PurdueHUB-U, will serve up modular online courses with video lectures, interactive visualizations, and tools for students to interact with their peers and the professor. The project’s leaders hope it will improve face-to-face classes and bring in revenue by attracting students around the world.

PurdueHUB-U grew out of a course taught this year on Purdue’s nanoHUB, a collaborative platform for nanotechnology research. The course, on the fundamentals of nanoelectronics, was broken into two parts that lasted a few weeks each. It attracted 900 students from 27 countries, most of whom paid $30 for the class and a certificate of completion. Students also had the option to turn their certificates into continuing-education credits for an additional $195.

Timothy D. Sands, Purdue’s provost, called that pricing model a “low outer paywall” that was much cheaper than traditional credit-hour charges, but not quite free. He added that the project will first focus on developing online course materials to transform the university’s face-to-face classes. Mr. Sands said the course modules could also be offered to Purdue alumni, allowing them to continue their education after they graduate.

The effort is more modest than other universities’ recent forays into the world of vast, open online courses. EdX, the online-education project recently announced by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was created with a $60-million joint investment. PurdueHUB-U, meanwhile, will be backed by a seed investment of $2-million over its first four years. Purdue estimates that the project’s revenue will cover its expenses within five years.

“We’re pretty confident that it’ll take off, at least on campus, and that it will become a way for us to go forward in terms of expanding our global footprint as well,” Mr. Sands said.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by WebWizzard]

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