There's no substitute for a good teacher

There's no substitute for a good teacher
If the online platform is used to provide content, "then professors can devote more of their time to interacting and having one-on-one mentoring with students", says Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng. The company has built a subscription base of 6.5 million users worldwide, which includes 55,000 Singaporeans.

Stanford University professor Andrew Ng co-founded Coursera, an education platform that offers top-drawer university courses for free.

In just two years, the San Francisco-based company has built a subscription base of 6.5 million users worldwide, which includes 55,000 Singaporeans. It offers more than 600 courses, popularly called Moocs, short for Massive Open Online Courses.

So it is somewhat surprising when the 37-year-old who teaches the popular Machine Learning course online and offline in Stanford is emphatic when he says that Coursera's aim is absolutely not to replace brick-and-mortar universities.

The computer science professor, who also heads the Stanford University lab on artificial intelligence, has a Singapore connection.

He came to Singapore with his family when he was eight and studied in Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), then Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College before heading to the United States to Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and finally University of California, Berkeley, where he did his PhD.

Having studied in the best schools around the world, he firmly states that online courses however well-designed cannot replicate what happens in lecture theatres and tutorial rooms.

"Think of your favourite professor or teacher in school. Do you think it will be possible to replicate the classroom experience you had with that teacher?" he asks.

The way he puts it, Coursera's mission sounds simple yet absurdly ambitious - to provide degree courses to millions of people around the world for free, while also transforming how top universities teach.

Using a combination of video lectures, online quizzes, homework assignments and forums, Coursera courses are interactive and provide the student with grades, feedback and the ability to collaborate with peers.

The courses are free, but those who want them to count as credentials can pay a small fee, between US$29 (S$37) and US$69, and take up courses on the "signature track", where they will receive a certificate on completion.

Recently, Coursera announced that students who take a series of related courses can attain certificates of specialisation.

Each series will comprise three to nine Moocs, culminating in a project in which students will have to apply their skills, by building an app, coding a secure webpage or producing a 5,000-word essay, for instance.

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