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Posted on Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 8:39 a.m.

Free classes? University of Michigan to offer seven online courses at no charge

By Kellie Woodhouse

In February University of Michigan offered a Model Thinking class online.

The class, taught by a political science and economics professor, has more than 50,000 students.

Yup, that's right. 50,000.


University of Michigan now offers free classes through Coursera.

There are only about 42,000 students at U-M, but the school made the class available to anyone interested in the topic using a new Web-based platform called Coursera. Coursera allows students to learn using a mix of videos, discussion and quizzes and was launched this fall by two Stanford University students and is now being used by U-M, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania and Stanford. Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a similar online platform through its Opencourseware program. Relatively few schools participate in such free course sharing programs.

U-M announced Wednesday that it will expand from one class on Coursera to seven classes in the coming months. That's expected to generate a lot of buzz for the university. The Model Thinking course has already logged 1.2 million video views on Coursera.

For U-M, adapting to the platform gives faculty a unique way to communicate with alumni and prospective students.

“This is a great way for alumni or prospective Michigan students to experience a little bit of what a U-M education is like,” Scott Page, the professor teaching Model Thinking, said in a release.

Added Martha Pollack, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs: "This is one more way for us to connect with prospective students and alumni.”

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U-M Provost Phil Hanlon

U-M Provost Phil Hanlon said the school is still exploring the possibilities available through Coursera, which allows participating universities to collaborate.

“While our faculty members have much to offer through an online approach, as an institution we also have much to learn about how to make the best use of this new teaching tool,” he said.

Interested learners can still participate in Page's 10-week Model Thinking course.

Upcoming U-M courses offered on Coursera range from 'Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World' to 'Introduction to Finance' to 'Securing Digital Democracy.'

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Thu, Apr 19, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

I think I'm going to take the course on Thinking........When you think about it, who doesn't need help in learning how to think? And to think, I've had so much trouble with my thinking these past several years. I think my thoughts are really slowing down as i get older. I think I'm going to submit this now....

Space Cowgirl

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

I applaud U-M and its professors for getting involved in this. Sometimes it seems that too few people are interested in learning for learning's sake, but for those who value curiosity, this is a great resource. I'm looking forward to taking a couple of these classes, and I can't wait to see what will be offered in the future!


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Fits perfectly with U of M's mission of disseminating knowledge throughout the state. I'm signed up.

Tom Joad

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

Online college courses are the only way to solve the problem of higher education becoming prohibitively expensive for most Americans, with its attendant life-long financial debt. The old model of maintaining a gargantuan physical college plant is unsustainable in post peak oil years. The energy required to heat and maintain these large buildings just entertain a few thousand students each day in lecture is a waste of resources, both financial and energy, which are one and the same. Students can watch lectures and if need be limit physical attendance to lab courses and test taking. We're in for a 'crude awakening' as oil becomes scarce in the next few years. We were warned of peak oil in Ecological Issues back in the late 80s, a course offered by the School of Natural Resources (as it was then known)...after 25 years of burning 20 million barrels a day...we're there. Peak Oil.

N. Todd

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

Awesome info indeed. Looking at the Coursera site, I see a number of appealing courses. Although UM offers 7 of them, there are approximately 40 offered between the 4 participating schools; don't limit yourselves. You can probably count me in to Rabkin's course, as well as Basic Behavioral Neurology offered by Penn and Intro to Logic by Stanford.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

In spite of how much as I criticize and bash UM on these comment pages I have to say that I think this is wonderful. This is the kind of leadership I like to see from UM. From the article it appears that UM is actually doing something for the people and not just for profit.

lindsay erin

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

This is awesome. One of my favorite teachers from my time at U of M (Eric Rabkin) is teaching Fantasy & Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. Thank you for sharing!

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 1:52 p.m.

Lindsay. Thanks for reading! That class sounds really interesting. I might partake.