UBC to Offer Free Online Courses

UBC microbiologist Rosie Redfield, named one of Nature’s 2011 newsmakers, will be offering the course “Useful Genetics.”

UBC is joining forces with the US-based company Coursera to provide high quality, non-credit courses free of charge to a worldwide audience – bringing the university’s expertise within reach of anyone with Internet access.

Starting spring 2013, UBC will pilot three non-credit courses taught by renowned UBC faculty and researchers through Coursera’s online learning platform.

Coursera was founded in 2011 by two Stanford University professors to transform teaching and learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Partnering with top-tier universities that include Stanford, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, Coursera currently enrolls more than 1.3 million students from 196 countries, and with today’s addition of courses, the platform hosts more than 200 courses across a broad range of disciplines.

“Our partnership with Coursera will enable us to reach people around the world, and to evaluate an exciting new teaching and learning technology,” says Simon Peacock, Dean of the Faculty of Science, where two of the three UBC Coursera courses will be housed. “Ultimately, I believe all UBC students will benefit from our exploration of this rapidly evolving online space.”

E-learningUBC’s Coursera offerings are “Useful Genetics” with Prof. Rosie Redfield, “Computer Science Problem Design” with Prof. Gregor Kiczales and “Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Conversations” with Sarah Burch and Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, instructors for the UBC Continuing Studies Centre for Sustainability.

Coursera courses typically consist of videos or voice-over PowerPoint presentations, with student-led discussion forums, interactive activities, quizzes and assignments set at regular intervals.



  1. Andre Audet says:

    Would appreciate strong technical courses be offered along with the farily useless humanities material generally pushed in this sort of initiative.

    How about it?

    Andre J Audet P.Eng

    1. Elizabeth Powell says:

      Thanks for your comment, Andre! The initial course offerings include science and technology topics such as “Useful Genetics” with Prof. Rosie Redfield and “Computer Science Problem Design” with Prof. Gregor Kiczales.

  2. viona Esen says:

    Good move!

  3. Brian Scrivener says:

    What are the anticipated direct benefits to UBC from this involvement? Could someone please explain the business case for this project? Facilitating this course will incur both direct and indirect costs — will these be charged against existing, hardpressed departmental budgets, or will it come out of the Marketing budget? Will faculty time spent facilitating these courses count as part of these instructors’ contractual course load? If so, what measures exist to put in place offsetting course offerings for registered, fee-paying UBC students who might have expected to benefit from for-credit courses offered by these excellent faculty? I look forward to reading the well-reasoned rationale for this project, and I hope it is not just ‘me-too’ jumping in to something trendy.

    1. Chris Balma says:

      Hi, Brian. To a great degree this is a research project. Like many of the educational innovations that universities invest in, part of the goal is to evaluate them and to use what we learn to improve our distance, face-to-face and blended courses. Our partnering with Coursera will also expose students around the world to learning opportunities at UBC.

      Chris Balma, Director of Communications, Faculty of Science

      1. Brian Scrivener says:

        So, two years ought to be enough time to evaluate this experiment. What were the results of this research, and what’s the enduring takeaway? Can you please provide me with a link to the data, report or article stemming from this research?

        1. Chris says:


          Flexible learning at UBC—of which our partnership with Coursera is a part—is the university’s response to opportunities and fundamental changes in the post-secondary marketplace. You can link through to the UBC flexible learning site for details on rationale, initial response to the online course offerings, case studies: 


          This update from an instructor offering CS classes as a MOOC and a UBC first-year class gives you an idea of how the partnership is informing teaching at UBC. 


          For details on our broader academic research streams regarding undergraduate education at UBC, and UBC Science in particular, visit the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative website:


          Finally, our new partnership with edX should enable UBC to continue and expand its investigations into how students learn and how best to use technology to support their learning. Please keep your eye on the FL site for ongoing updates!

  4. Bill says:

    I would like to see more of the Humanities subjects,and from Faculty of Education, that have topics that center on applied research problems, eg counselling issues in the education system.
    Also other subjects such as intro Art History courses

  5. Merle says:

    I am pleased to see that instead of the usual dreary, ineffective lecturing techniques that were the bane of my university years, an effort is being made to engage the learner: short videos of lectures, interactive activities and discussion forums.

    I understand Mr Scrivener’s speaking for the “business case”, but, in my view, anything that moves university teaching away from lecturing and toward learner-engaged activities HAS to be worth pursuing.

    I assume, since the research model has been cited, that the intended learner outcomes will be clear, measurable, and lead to “successive approximations of accuracy”: improved efficiency (good return on investment of time and energy, neither of which are recoverable) and improved effectiveness (learning the right things).

  6. John says:

    The http://www.coursera.org course list (198 offerings) is EXTREAMLY sluggish (as at 7:30 am Sep 30th Sunday). Are you having technical/server/bandwidth problems? Could it be the graphics at the left of the description are overloading the download bandwidth?

    A more compact course list sans graphics would be great.


    1. Elizabeth Powell says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your interest! We don’t manage Coursera ourselves, but you can pass on your feedback through their support form here: http://help.coursera.org/customer/portal/emails/new

      UBC’s courses on Coursera are listed here: https://www.coursera.org/ubc

  7. Ben Seghers says:

    I agree with Brian Scrivener’s concerns and hope that UBC fee-paying students will not be impacted by having their profs working (on company time?) on free non-credit courses for the rest of the world. As many universities deliver more and more high-quality courses online, both for credit and non-credit, taxpayers may question the need for the expensive infrastructure of a huge campus like UBC with all the problems of housing and transit. If undergraduate courses can be delivered effectively online then why is the university investing in all those new high-rise dormitories? Perhaps by 2025 UBC will be mainly an institution for graduate students in engineering and the biomedical sciences. Philosophy students will watch their prof’s PowerPoint lectures on a beach somewhere!

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