Billed as Asia's forst foray into offering massive open online courses, the class on science, technology, and China is a sign of the region's growing interest in online education.
Naubahar Sharif has been teaching science, technology, and innovation for some years at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He drew on his lectures to develop a massive open online course, or MOOC, on “Science, Technology and Society in China,” and this month it was launched on the Coursera platform – billed as Asia’s first MOOC.
Some 17,000 students registered for the three-week course, which began on April 4.
“I was astonished and overwhelmed. This is far more than the 8,000-10,000 students we were expecting,” said Mr. Sharif, an associate professor.
Around 60 percent of the students are from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other rich nations, with the rest from countries like Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, and middle-income countries in Asia.
Inviting Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, or HKUST, onto the California-based for-profit MOOC platform was a deliberate strategy by Coursera to attract more Asian and particularly Chinese students – a massive market for MOOC providers.
“We do have students from China as well, in places where Internet connections are more reliable,” said Mr. Sharif. But, he added, it was striking how international the student body was.
This presents its own challenges regarding the level at which to pitch a MOOC. “We have the whole gamut of older and younger, experienced and less experienced students, and also academics and probably some people who are experts in related fields,” said Mr. Sharif.