More than 5,000 sign up for University of Kentucky's free online chemistry course

More than 5,000 students have signed up for the University of Kentucky's first foray into free online instruction.

Two chemistry teachers at UK designed a class to help high school students better prepare for Advanced Placement or college chemistry. The class is UK's first massive online open course, or MOOC, offered through Coursera, one of the nation's largest providers of such classes.

The class will launch on Jan. 27.

Patsy Carruthers, director of UK's Academic Technology Group, said she was pleased with the response.

"The 5,000 qualifies as massive, but it's not overwhelming," she said. "I think that's a pretty good number."

Because students sign up at Coursera via email, it's not yet clear where they live, although it's assumed that most are Kentucky high school students. The course will include a voluntary survey that should provide more information, Carruthers said.

Chemistry lecturer Kim Woodrum designed the course with fellow lecturer Allison Soult, starting with coursework this summer, then filming class lectures last semester. The course is designed to take about six weeks, and at the end, students can take a test to earn a certificate.

"We know the biggest problems high school students have" in chemistry, Woodrum said. By taking the course, "maybe the success rates will improve when they get to college," she said.

The class is heavily math-based, focusing on topics including chemical equilibrium and thermodynamics, Woodrum said.

The filmed segments include a lecture interspersed with PowerPoint slides, and questions that the students can do during class, with examples and answers provided. Students work without a textbook.

"It has taken many, many hours," Woodrum said, but "it's been a very fun process."

MOOCs are something of an unknown in higher education, with the potential to greatly change teaching and learning.

One study by the University of Pennsylvania found that 83 percent of 34,000 MOOC-takers at the school already had two- or four-year degrees. The results suggested that the classes provide more enrichment than core instruction.

Coursera was an early provider of MOOCs, which were quickly picked up by elite institutions including Yale and Stanford. Other MOOC providers include EdX, a collaboration between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Udacity.

UK's arrangement with Coursera includes eight other schools: the State University of New York, the University of Tennessee System, the University of Colorado system, the University of Houston system, the University of Nebraska, the University of New Mexico, the University System of Georgia and West Virginia University.

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