President Bruce Benson's newsletter

A message from President Bruce Benson

April 2017

Dear Alumni and Friends,

We often promote the University of Colorado and its four campuses as engines of innovation that help drive our economy. Some people ask me just what that means, and I’m happy to elaborate.

The University of Colorado embarked on a journey just over five years ago with only a vague idea of the destination.

We partnered with Coursera, at the time a fledgling company with a big idea, to deliver massive open online courses (MOOCs), taking CU far beyond campus boundaries. MOOCs provide open-access courses and programs delivered online to tens of thousands of people. We saw it as a great platform to pair the innovative work of our faculty with a new technology-based delivery system. MOOCs differed from traditional college courses, even those online. The content might have been similar but the delivery method was different, and they weren’t for credit and didn’t earn revenue. However, we were confident MOOCs would extend the university’s strong academic brand and name around the world.

Today, our journey has led us to the forefront of the MOOC revolution, complete with twists and turns along the way that cause us to consider and reconsider the role of technology in educational delivery. CU has 29 MOOCs with online enrollments of 1.7 million. We’re offering certificates to address real-world needs. We’re soon to launch our first for-credit master’s degree and graduate certificates delivered via MOOCs, which will produce revenue.

Our journey also led us to be a destination. Last week CU Boulder hosted Coursera’s International Partners Conference, a gathering of several hundred of the best and brightest in the field from 27 countries who are guiding the latest MOOC evolution.

MOOCs won’t supplant the college experience. There’s no replacement for being in a classroom with a great faculty member, engaging in debate and discussion with classmates. Also, a considerable amount of what we learn in college happens outside the classroom. Yet MOOCs are an important arrow in CU’s quiver of delivering educational excellence.

Our MOOC offerings run the gamut of disciplines and campuses. For example, “Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain” uses ancient languages and manuscripts to explore cultural and religious conflicts. It allowed the 17,000 students who took the course to understand documents in their cultural context and apply lessons to the world today. “Data Analytics for Businesses Boot Camp” provided some 30,000 people with insight into a critical area for businesses everywhere.

Our “Global Health Responders” MOOC drew students from around the world who deal with all manner of public health issues in every corner of the globe. And next month we will launch the “Electric Utilities: Fundamentals and Future” online course through the Business School at CU Denver, which will offer learners the opportunity to understand how the industries’ technical, regulatory and structural history shapes the electricity we all rely on today.

By this summer, we will have three cybersecurity MOOCs online that will offer certificates in this critical field. Many of our MOOCs generate revenue, which allows us to continue our experiments with learning at scale.

The Coursera Partners conference at CU Boulder in itself furthered the evolution of MOOCs. Faculty and researchers explored such varied topics as instructional design, research into the effectiveness of teaching and learning with MOOCs, and strategies for outreach to business and government, among others. A big topic of discussion was the role MOOCs can play in retraining in health care. Another was the use of artificial intelligence in MOOC delivery, with an eye on keeping learners on the platform longer and enhancing their learning.

When we started this journey just over five years ago, we didn’t quite know where it would lead us. What we’ve found is that MOOCs continually evolve in new and exciting directions. CU is deeply interested and involved in that evolution, and in some cases we are leading it. We’re not entirely sure where the road ahead will lead us, but we like what we’ve seen thus far.

For feedback, contact 

Bruce D. Benson
Bruce Benson

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