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A dozen big name colleges to offer free classes this fall

Massive Open Online Courses from major universities will available for free in subjects from engineering to poetry.

In the movies, a mook is not something you want to be.

But MOOC has a new meaning: Massive Open Online Courses. College classes on the Internet. A dozen big name universities have announced they'll offer free MOOCs this fall, coordinated by a company called Coursera.

David Szatmary is with the University of Washington, which is going further: giving real college credits for some MOOCs.

David Szatmary: We have an enhanced version of the Coursera class, which will be instructor-led, will have additional assignments, additional exit requirements and readings as well as some more multi-media material, and there will be a fee attached to those classes.

Moe: Is taking those classes the same as getting in to the University of Washington and studying in one of these really competitive programs?

Szatmary: If you get in to the University or you are in the university, the credits could apply to the University of Washington, but it is not admission to the University of Washington.

Online classes like these have tended to focus on things like engineering, math.  Andrew Ng is one of the founders of Coursera, also teaches at Stanford. He says new technologies have allowed for a more diverse catalog.

Andrew Ng: If you sign up for the University of Pennsylvania poetry class, you'll be asked to write critical thinking type essays, and then students will be asked to grade each other's submissions. So, you as a student would submit something and then you'd be trained to grade other people's work, and then you'd get to grade say five other students' work, and then you will get feedback from five other people about your work, so this other technology called peer-grading allows us to teach a broad range of subjects, definitely not just engineering.

Moe: How can you interact with a professor online?

Ng: In some ways, the online classes are ironically maybe even more interactive than some lecture halls are. When I teach a Stanford class and I ask a question, you know, there's maybe one student in the front row that blurts out the answer and then the class moves on and only one student  gets to attempt an answer, but in an online class, when I teach a class, the video pauses and right there in the web page, we ask you a question, so every student gets to attempt an answer.

Moe: How do you make money giving out free classes?

Ng: Some of the partners are debating whether or not they should charge for certificates, so that's something we may do. Another thing I'm excited about is student placement services. Many students take classes to find a better job, and if we can introduce those students to companies that want to hire these top students, that could be another way to bring revenue and keep it sustainable.

**

You know how you were telling me the other day how you wish someone would make plush cat ears available for humans to wear? And that they would read your brainwaves and move accordingly?

Well, they've arrived. Necomimi from the Japanese company Necowear will cost $99. Producer Larissa Anderson joins me for a pro and con.

Larissa Anderson: Pro! It's a mood ring but with fluffy kitty ears. They perk up when you're happy, go droopy when you're down. Fun.

Moe: Con. No one should own these and they should be banned. I don't want to know someone's sad by reading their fluffy kitty ears. It flies against human evolution.

Anderson: Come on, banning them? Teenagers might love these things. Maybe you're a fuddy duddy.

Moe: Fuddy duddy?

Anderson: Fuddy duddy!

Moe: I think you're right. But I think pink fluffy brain wave reading cat ears make a case for fuddy-duddyism. Today,I rise up as a proud fuddy-duddyer and say enough.

Anderson: Fluffy brain wave cat ears is your breaking point, huh?

Moe: We all have one. 

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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