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Yale Joins the MOOC Club; Coursera Looks to Translate Existing Courses

For all the star power harnessed by massive-open-online-course providers, Yale University has been a notable absence. While many of its elite peers scrambled to get out ahead of the MOOC wave, Yale bided its time.

That’s about to change. Yale announced on Wednesday that it would soon offer MOOCs through Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based company.

Yale plans to offer four courses beginning in January, focusing on constitutional law, financial markets, morality, and Roman architecture.

The move was a long time coming. Yale, which in 2007 became among the first institutions to make its course content available free on the Web with its Open Yale Courses lecture series, has taken a distinctly deliberate approach to MOOCs. Last fall it convened a faculty committee to recommend a broad online agenda that would encompass MOOCs as well as other forms of online teaching.

“We understand that there are institutional considerations (ranging from entrance fees to intellectual-property issues to regulatory-compliance matters) that may govern which MOOC platforms could be pursued by Yale,” the committee wrote in a report last December.

Nevertheless, it continued, “we recommend that Yale should use one or more of the new MOOC platforms to continue the free, online dissemination of Yale’s teaching materials.”

Apart from MOOCs, the committee recommended that Yale begin offering online language courses for credit “that could be available to Yale College students as well as students enrolled at peer universities elsewhere.”

Coursera, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday that it had created partnerships with a raft of companies and nonprofit groups that will work on translating its MOOCs into various foreign languages, including Arabic, Japanese, Kazakh, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, and Ukrainian, which are the native tongues of a number of countries where Coursera’s English-language MOOCs have been popular.

There is substantial demand worldwide for American higher education, but experts have warned that MOOC providers that wish to serve a global audience face a challenge in accommodating various languages and cultures. And while many MOOCs are oriented to the common languages of mathematics and numbers, language barriers have caused some problems for MOOCs that rely on peer grading.

For its part, Coursera has focused of late on expanding overseas, where, surveys have shown, most of its registrants reside. In February, Coursera announced partnerships with 16 foreign universities.

The company said its efforts to serve non-English speakers would happen in phases. “For the time being, course lectures will be translated via subtitles while all other course material, including quizzes and assignments, will remain in the course’s original language,” it said in its news release. “Coursera’s long-term goal is to have our platform localized to global audiences.”

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