Photo illustration by Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio State should make a profit on the two free courses it plans to offer online, but not anytime soon.
OSU joined 32 other universities in offering free online classes through Coursera on Sept. 19. Although students do not have to pay to take courses through Coursera, guidelines for university profit were included in OSU’s contractual agreement with the company.
The contract outlines that the university will receive 6 to 15 percent of gross revenues generated by Coursera through each course provided by OSU, depending on the production value of the course. Additionally, OSU will receive 20 percent of gross profits on the collection of courses the university provides.
This does not necessarily mean, however, Coursera will be an immediate source of revenue for the university, said Wayne Carlson, vice provost for undergraduate studies.
“There is no revenue stream through Coursera at this particular point,” Carlson said. “What the terms of agreement did is it looked at possibilities for future revenue sharing, all of which would need to be negotiated at the time that any revenue stream actually did occur, which is not completely clear.”
Carlson said the university does not look at the agreement with Coursera as a way to profit, but as an opportunity to take advantage of new technology.
“We can’t look at it as a revenue stream,” Carlson said. “We know that the Coursera platform has integrated some interesting approaches to grading and assessment, and that particular technology is really interesting to all of us as we look to growing online and hybrid and distance education courses.”
Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller is also a computer science professor at Stanford University, and explained in an email how Coursera is funding its project. She said however, the company is not yet generating revenue.
“Coursera has raised $22 million in funding and currently we are using this capital to build out the platform and work to enhance the learning experience for students,” Koller said. “In the future, Coursera plans to pursue revenue-generating strategies, such as a job placement program through which prospective employers could pay to contact students who opt-in to learn about job opportunities. Any revenue generated would be shared with the university partners.”
OSU’s partnership with Coursera will begin with OSU offering two courses, both from the College of Pharmacy. Neither course can be taken for university credit, but the courses will be available to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, at no cost.
Carlson said the first course, “Generation Rx: The Science Behind Prescription Drug Abuse,” a six-week course, will first be offered during the 2013 Summer term. The second course, “Introduction to Pharmacy,” a 10-week course, will be offered during Fall Semester 2013.
The two courses are already online and available for sign up, but the number of people who have already registered is not available online.
Carlson said while the first terms for each course to be offered have been set, how many times they will be offered through Coursera has not been determined.
“(Each course) may run one time, and we decide that it’s not really something that we want to continue, or we may decide to try it a second time,” Carlson said.
Some OSU students asked about the agreement with Coursera reacted positively.
“I have heard about other universities doing this, such as Stanford. It’s a great idea,” said Michael Hanus, a graduate student in communication. “I’m all about people learning, if they’re not getting course credit then I have no problem.”
Carlson said it is important for OSU to be involved with Coursera’s development.
“We felt that we couldn’t stand at the sideline and watch what happened with Coursera because we really don’t know what’s going to happen to it. And if it does in fact become a really important part of higher education, we need to be at the table, which is why we signed up with it,” Carlson said.