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Coursera classes take on another dimension at Cedar Crest

Former project director of No Child Left Behind weighs in on online learning

Created date

March 26th, 2013

We need to have lifelong learning. College only lasts four years, says Howard Myers, retired mathematics teacher, administrator, and project director of No Child Left Behind. With the rising cost of education, Howard says that technology is coming to the rescue, not just for higher education but for lifelong learning. Last fall, he hosted an online Coursera class, A History of the World Since 1300, from his Washington-style, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment home with sunroom at Cedar Crest, an Erickson Living community in Pompton Plains, N.J. Six of his neighbors joined him in his living room in front of a 50-inch-screen Google TV twice a week for 14 weeks. Each lecture, by Princeton professor Jeremy Adelman, lasted 90 minutes. The lectures are excellent, Howard says. It s like taking a college course.

Free world-class courses

Coursera partners with top universities like Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Duke, and others to offer noncredit online courses to anyone with Internet access, free of charge. Students learn at their own pace and can test their knowledge with interactive exercises within a global community of thousands of others taking the course. Howard discovered the organization in the news and visited their website to learn more. Having a smart TV, he invited his neighbors and attracted the six others, including Elizabeth Rose and Nina Romano. I thought it was very good. It gave me a nice overview, and I learned a lot more about Asia than I ever knew, Elizabeth says. She says one unique aspect about taking the course with her peers at Cedar Crest was their discussion and interaction. Howard was quite knowledgeable himself, and we had some discussions throughout the course, she says. Though the length of the course limited their interaction, they enjoyed learning together and were able to take the quizzes and discuss their answers.

Convenient continuing education

For Nina, taking the course in the comfort of a neighbor s home, just down the hall from her own front door, appealed to her. It was good for my age, says Nina, who also takes several Road Scholar courses at the community. In fact, Road Scholar at Cedar Crest provided one textbook,Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present (Third Edition, Vol. 2), for the Coursera group to share. Though the course does not require the textbook, Howard made copies of each chapter so participants could easily follow along. Cedar Crest, a proponent of lifelong learning, hopes to make the Coursera classes available on a larger scale. Management is working on a way to show the courses to a larger audience, maybe in the music room, Howard says. Cedar Crest has a number of classrooms, as well as the performing arts center, in which one could project the course and show it to a larger audience. But first, we have to find a course that a number of people are interested in, Howard says. When they do find the right topic, Nina says, I would definitely take another online course.

Technology in the classroom

As a lifelong educator, Howard Myers has seen education evolve with the use of technology in the classroom. While the cost of higher education rises, Howard trusts that technology, including online learning, will come to the rescue. The use of technology in the classroom would blow your mind, he says, citing smart boards and tablet computers. During his career with the Essex County Vocational Schools in Newark, N.J., Howard witnessed the school system improve with the use of technology customized to the lesson. Technology is becoming more adaptable and effective, he says. And not just for higher education. It wouldn t surprise me at all to see more online learning in public schools.