Last updated: 23.10.12

Digital learning 'accelerating' at University of Virginia

Online learning at the University of Virginia (UVa) is advancing after thousands of students have signed up to its non-credit virtual courses.

The institution has begun rolling out massive open online courses (MOOCs), following in the footsteps of many other US higher education facilities, the Daily Progress reports.

According to Siva Vaidhyanathan, chair of UVa's department for media studies, the purpose of introducing MOOCs at the institution is to perform a public service that also enhances UVa's global reputation.

He was quoted as saying the university has provided "online and hybrid courses and degree programs for years. There is nothing new or lucrative about that. Some of them are very cool, especially in the Curry School of Education."

A report released by the Faculty Senate in July stated the UVa has offered at least 11 digital degree-granting programmes, which use both traditional classroom methods alongside online instruction and in-class discussion.

Some of the courses run by the university have proven to be hugely popular among students and other distance learners.

UVa computer science professor David Evans, who is one of the school's pioneers in digital learning, has successfully delivered a free online course to more than 94,000 students on how to build a search engine.

Furthermore, UVa physics professor Louis Bloomfield noted his MOOC entitled How Things Work - acting as an introduction to the physics of everyday objects - had attracted over 22,000 students.

Mr Bloom said he hopes "the whole MOOC idea works out well, but we'll have to be vigilant about maintaining the quality and integrity of these classes".

Stewart Gamage, director of the Morven Project at UVa, believes high-quality virtual teaching could fulfil Thomas Jefferson's vision of educating citizens to preserve democracy.

He added the UVa can offer more programmes to serve the public good, providing skills in how to build a civil society "where citizens are actually free".