Coursera, UC San Diego Use MOOCs to Make Workers More Job-Ready

After establishing a new office of online education earlier this year, UC San Diego recently unveiled plans to develop massive open online courses—or MOOCs—to better prepare workers for jobs in two specialized tech sectors.

Under a “global skills initiative” announced by Mountain View, CA-based Coursera, UC San Diego said it will be working on the classes with Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), the wireless technologies giant, and San Francisco-based Splunk (NASDAQ: SPLK), a big data software developer.

Coursera said last week its initiative is intended to provide workers with needed skills in today’s tech economy.

According to a 2015 ManpowerGroup survey, a third of employers in the U.S. and 38 percent of global employers report difficulties filling job vacancies due to “talent shortages.” When asked why, employers cited “lack of applicants,” (33 percent); lack of experience (19 percent), and lack of technical competencies or hard skills (17 percent).

Coursera, which provides free online classes, says it is working with a handful of industry partners and research universities to close the skills gap by making online students more work-ready. Two other big MOOC providers, Mountain View, CA-based Udacity and Cambridge, MA-based Edx also offer online courses that bring together the academic and private sectors, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal.

UC San Diego is working with Coursera and its industry partners to develop online course sequences in two specializations. One involves a Qualcomm subsidiary, Qualcomm Technologies, which is helping UC San Diego and Coursera develop online classes in the “Internet of Things,” technology that typically uses low-power wireless networks to connect inexpensive sensors and devices that only need to occasionally “chirp” bursts of data. The other involves Splunk, a leading provider of “big data” software, which is helping the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego create online classes in “Big Data.”

Jeff Elman, a professor of cognitive science who was named as the inaugural director of UC San Diego’s new Office of Online and Technology Enhanced Education, calls the global skills initiative “a big deal.” As he explained, “One of the campus’ objectives in the online space is to promote access to and cultivation of skills that will enhance job readiness. Working with corporate partners is a great way to accomplish this.”

As director of online education at UC San Diego, Elman says he also has an opportunity to explore innovative methods of technology-based teaching and learning for both online students and UCSD faculty. The new online learning platform, UC San DiegoX, will host its first free, non-credited course, Computer Graphics CSE 167x, beginning Aug. 17. The class will be taught by Ravi Ramamoorthi, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

Elman recently responded to some questions about his new role at UC San Diego and the emergence of MOOCs. Our email exchange has been lightly edited.

Xconomy: Considering the controversies over online learning that erupted at San Jose State University and elsewhere, do you feel any trepidation about overseeing online education for UC San Diego?

Jeff Elman: I think that many faculty (and students as well) have understandable reservations about how to use online technology in education. The experience that many of us have with earlier forays into this field has not always been positive. And then of course the ‘MOOC mania’ that erupted in … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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