Venkat Viswanathan has unveiled the first MOOC offering on Statistical Thermodynamics: Molecules to Machines from Carnegie Mellon University, alma matter of Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng. The course starts April 20th and introduces students to engineering concepts and energy systems at the molecular level.
This comes as somewhat of a surprise as CMU has been wary of MOOCs in the past and has spent much effort creating for-profit ventures, such as Acatar, a course development platform. Based on recent Twitter feeds, it appears that majority of the course was built with the help of Acatar, a CMU-based online education start-up, so it will be interesting to see the amalgamation when the course officially opens.
— Acatar (@acatar) March 6, 2015
While Carnegie Mellon may be new to MOOCs they are certainly no stranger to free online learning. CMU developed and launched the Open Learning Initiative in October 2002 which appeared in tandem with MIT’s OpenCourseWare. The initiative is still going strong to this day offering 24 free courses in language, biology, chemistry, computing and statistics clocking over 45,000 enrollments in 2013 alone.
Professor Viswanathan, who recently joined the CMU Mechanical Engineering department in August of 2014 outlines in great detail the experience of teaching his first course in Statistical Thermodynamics on his Medium blog. We are also given a glimpse into the inspiration behind Venkat’s push for a Carnegie Mellon MOOC:
“It now feels like ages ago, when I was listening to my friend, Frank Wang narrating about his experiences helping Dan Boneh teach his cryptography class on Coursera. This planted the first seeds in my head about online learning; but I was still a PhD student at this point. This was a focal point of discussions during my faculty interviews but it was still not entirely clear to me how to manage such an effort. In addition, all the associated questions an academic has about online education: Where is this online learning going? Is it going to be disruptive?”
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