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UF first Florida school to offer free online courses

Online college class

When Wendell Porter lectures on global sustainable energy, more than 18,000 students will be listening.

The University of Florida lecturer has developed a free course that is being offered online to anyone who wants to register — one of the first crop of classes debuting on Coursera, a website that partners with universities to host free courses online.

Admission to UF is not required to take the classes, which are not offered for credit and have been termed massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

UF is the only school in Florida to be part of the invitation-only Coursera group, which includes 62 universities from around the world. Officials already have seen student interest skyrocket since rolling out its first few courses this semester.

The first MOOC, Fundamentals of Human Nutrition, has an enrollment topping 45,000, which, the university points out, is nearly as high as UF’s total on-campus enrollment.

There are 16,000 students in the Economic Issues, Food & You course that began Monday and more than the 13,000 students enrolled in UF’s Sustainable Agricultural Land Management course.

Andy McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology, said the enrollment for three live courses and one that goes live on Monday totals about 95,000. Faculty members also have responded eagerly.

“The faculty has gone from relatively uninterested to very interested,” he said, noting that the most recent call for five course ideas yielded almost 40 responses. The next batch of courses is expected to go live on June 1.

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