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Coursera said today that it is launching a suite of new product options to help universities meet their long-term needs.

The new product options include major enhancements across critical needs such as robust academic integrity for credit-bearing online learning, authoring impactful curriculum, improving employability for students, and bridging the digital divide through improved mobile access, the organisation said.

In October 2019, Coursera launched Coursera for Campus to help universities achieve their digital transformation goals. In March 2020, they announced the Campus Response Initiative, where Coursera for Campus was made available for free to institutions around the world.

Coursera for Campus also supports universities in helping students gain marketable skills with Professional Certificates from industry educators like Google, IBM, Facebook, Intuit, Salesforce, and Amazon. Also, Guided Projects give students hands-on learning experiences with tools like Python, SQL, HTML, Jupyter Notebooks, Java, R, Tensorflow, and Google Analytics in under two hours, which students can apply in interviews and on-the-job.

Strong partnerships

At this time, Coursera has partnered with many universities in Africa including the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, Covenant University in Nigeria, Africa Nazarene University in Kenya and University CERCO in Benin.

Through this initiative, globally students have enrolled in 16 million courses accumulating over 35 million hours of learning. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) alone, this equates to over 292 million students and 5.2 million learning hours.

According to Anthony Tattersall, VP Europe, Middle East and Africa at Coursera, Coursera for Campus helps universities equally serve students including those with limited connectivity, bandwidth, and devices. 70% of Coursera for Campus students use a mobile device for their learning during the pandemic.

As well as the 4,200 ready-made online courses from leading universities and companies, faculty can efficiently build custom courses, hands-on projects, assessments, and even embed Zoom recordings with Live2Coursera. Strategies and resources for effective online teaching are also available on the Coursera Teaching Center. Coursera for Campus also offers academic integrity features that enable universities to deliver credit-bearing online learning.

“Coursera for Campus has been a great enabler for this next step of innovation by offering job-relevant, multi-disciplinary learning,” said Prof. Rory Ryan, Executive Director of Academic Development and Support at University of Johannesburg. “Since launching Coursera’s free initiative for universities, we’ve had over 30,000 enrollments and more than 84,000 learning hours registered. We are delighted with the results of this initiative and we are very proud of our UJ community.”

Dr. Ada Peter, Director International Office and Linkages at Covenant University added that the partnership is a strategic priority for them. “It provides learners at Covenant access to the peak of education. It will allow alumni, staff and faculty to maintain a viable edge in the constantly changing world of work,” he said.

“We chose Coursera to strengthen our existing course offering, infuse work skills into all elements of our teaching, expand our offering in the domains of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data literacy and be a global education brand,” said Dr Stanley Makhosi Bhebhe, Africa Nazarene University Vice-Chancellor. “We’ve had outstanding training and support from Coursera in on-boarding students. In just four weeks, more than 1,100 students have enrolled in over 4,400 courses.”

Making higher education accessible

Tattersall said traditional higher education is simply cost-prohibitive for many people, while others have existing careers, family commitments, or other responsibilities that prevent them from participating in a programme full-time.

For students with disabilities, learning in a classroom may be impossible as well. Online courses offer an incredible opportunity to get access to a world-class learning experience that would otherwise remain out of reach. It’s also important to consider solutions which can work offline for those who have challenging levels of internet connectivity, he said.

“Since we made our catalogue of online courses free to access in March; in response to the pandemic, more than 24 million students and 3,700 institutions have been using Coursera for Campus to complement their existing curricula. Now this programme is coming to an end, we’re delighted to be launching our permanent free offering, that provides up to 20,000 free student licenses to every university in the world, helping them serve their students,” he said.

Quick response to a crisis

Tattersall noted that forced campus closures during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in mass experimentations for universities all over the world. “We’ve been particularly impressed by how African universities responded to this challenge. Countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Benin really embraced digital learning to address the challenges that COVID-19 was posing on students and faculty. They moved rapidly to launch Coursera for Campus and the adoption rate from students has just been incredible. Some universities, like University of Johannesburg, have done more than 86,000 learning hours in just four months of launching Coursera for Campus to students,” he said.

He said that from the start, universities in these countries have been extremely open-minded and up for doing something innovative. This has no doubt facilitated a smoother transition to online teaching and learning compared to other countries and in turn, reduced learning disruptions, he said. “What’s more, universities with this mindset will make a step-change in response to the pandemic and possibly leap-frog organisations that have inertia or are resistant to change and haven’t responded as innovatively to the crisis,” he said.

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