On Thursday night, the University of Texas at Austin opened four free online courses for open registration. By Monday morning, total enrollment stood at 14,000 and counting.
The four courses — Ideas of the 20th Century, Energy 101, Age of Globalization, and Take Your Medicine: The Impact of Drug Development — will begin in September and are available through edX, a nonprofit online education venture founded in 2012 by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As edX notes on its website, the free courses are "available to anyone in the world with an internet connection." The rise of such courses, commonly referred to as "MOOCs" (short for "massive open online course"), is a relatively new phenomenon that has been embraced by the country's most prestigious institutions of higher learning, including the University of Texas System and its flagship university.
"We are thrilled with the early response to the first four UTAustinX courses and excited about the opportunity to show the world the breadth and quality of course offerings from UT-Austin," said Ross Strader, the director of educational technology at UT-Austin's Center for Teaching and Learning.
The Energy 101 course alone has already attracted roughly 5,000 registrants. Even Gene Powell, the chairman of the University of Texas System regents, intends to take it this fall.
After registration went live, Powell sent an email to his friends and colleagues saying, "It is exciting to see the first UT-Austin courses posted next to courses from Harvard, Berkeley and MIT – I am sure the UT courses are the best of the class!"
UT-Austin plans to launch five more courses in the spring of 2014, covering a broad range of topics: Jazz Appreciation, Foundations of Data Analysis, Mathematics and Effective Thinking, Introduction to Embedded Systems, and Linear Algebra: Theory and Computation.
Other UT System institutions are working with the system's Institute for Transformational Learning to create additional courses. The system invested $5 million in edX when the partnership was announced in October 2012. At the time, the system also announced an additional $5 million investment in course development.
Aside from the UT System, the only other Texas institution currently involved with edX or Coursera, a major for-profit MOOC provider, is Rice University in Houston. Rice is a partner in both edX and Coursera.
Below is a video promoting UT-Austin's "Ideas of the 20th Century" course: