GWU’s first free online course, on Federal Reserve, to debut in 2014

Many well-known colleges and universities are teaming with two big-name Web sites to offer free online education.

But George Washington University is charting another path into the world of MOOCs.

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Next year, GWU will offer its first massive open online course, or MOOC, on the topic of the Federal Reserve. The university announced the initiative this month at a symposium on the history and future of the Fed.

Notably, the MOOC will not be on the Coursera or EdX Web sites, platforms that have attracted many universities and a worldwide market of users in the past year and a half. Among local universities, Georgetown offers MOOCs on EdX; the University of Maryland, on Coursera.

But GWU said it will partner with the education companies Pearson and Blackboard to develop and host the MOOC.

“We are excited to use the online medium to provide nonpartisan open education to the general public on a topic of supreme significance to the world economic system,” Paul Schiff Berman, GWU’s vice provost for online education and academic innovation, said in a statement.

GWU said the seven-week, non-credit MOOC, to debut in the fall, draws on 2012 lectures given at the school by outgoing Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, as well as other material illuminating a crucial but little-understood institution.

“The Federal Reserve is a particularly significant entity for us to study, as it is simultaneously enormously important and yet not understood by most Americans,” Provost Steven Lerman said.

GWU President Steven Knapp in the past has expressed caution about the MOOC movement. Advocates say MOOCs will democratize elite higher education and help universities explore new methods of teaching and learning. Skeptics say their significance is oversold. In fall 2012, Knapp told The Washington Post that he worried about how universities could maintain high standards while instructing tens of thousands of people at once.

“It’s like teaching a stadium,” Knapp said at the time. “You could teach a lecture course . . . but how engaged would the students be sitting in the top row?”

 
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