Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Some online lectures are offered to not only Cornell students, but alumni and the general public.

April 13, 2020

Cornell Online Classes Gain Popularity with Alumni and General Public

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Currently enrolled Cornell students are not the only ones taking Cornell classes online: with many people stuck at home with ample free time, free Ivy League classes online are gaining popularity.

Twelve of these courses, available through the EdX platform, were produced by Cornell professors in the past, and are on topics ranging from astronomy to food ethics.

Over 160,000 people have accessed the online course A Hands-On Introduction to Engineering Simulations since its launch in 2016. The course was designed by Dr. Rajesh Bhaskaran, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The course teaches fluid dynamics and structural mechanics modeling as well as other kinds of engineering simulations, the math behind the models, and how to verify and approach engineering simulations and analysis.

Recently, enrollment has increased, Bhaskaran said.

“With the whole COVID-19 situation, the rate of enrollment has gone up, because people are stuck at home and are finding things to learn online,” Bhaskaran said.

Bhaskaran had been interested in producing this online class, because he saw online learning as a good platform to learn a tech-centered skill like engineering simulations, and he was interested in the general potential of online learning.

“The computer can be a great learning platform and teaching platform, and I was interested in experimenting with that,” said Bhaskaran.

Bhaskaran was interested in reaching a wide audience, especially because of the practical applicability of engineering simulations. He adapted the course to facilitate automated grading, and thinks the changes have been positive.

“At Cornell, we would give [the students] a homework problem statement that would be a page or two long, they would turn it in, and the TAs would grade it. [Online] I had to change it and make it all automated,” said Bhaskaran. “I would lead them to the solution by asking them questions. It worked out really well, you can think of it as guided problem solving with immediate feedback.”

Since Bhaskaran’s class taught a skill used in making engineering workplaces, former students have contacted him to tell him that his class helped them find an internship or do better at their jobs.

“I am teaching a very practical engineering skill, sought by employers,” Bhaskaran said. “What I was hoping the public would take away is that they would learn how to make reliable engineering simulations by relating what you are doing in the software to underlying conceptual foundations.”

In addition to free EdX courses, Corey Earle ’07 made his one credit class on the history of Cornell — The First American University — available to the entire Cornell community, including alumni.

“With students now dispersed around the world, strengthening community is even more important,”  wrote Earle in an email to The Sun. “Opening up the course to anyone seemed like an easy way for me to provide a little bit of normalcy for students who are feeling stressed and disconnected from each other.”

Over the three-week break, Earle offered an optional version of his class, called “Cornell History Happy Hours,” which is available through a Cornell streaming portal. Hundreds of people logged on to participate, increasing from 300 participants on March 16 to almost 800 on March 30.

“I received so much positive feedback from students and alumni that I decided to keep the class open to everyone once regular classes resumed,” Earle wrote.

While the class can no longer include physical tours of campus, Earle is offering other ways for students to explore campus, such as Google Maps scavenger hunts and documentaries.

Earle has also invited notable alumni to make surprise appearances in the class. Last week, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 joined.

While the course has only 415 spots for official enrollment, over 2,500 people are registered for Zoom lectures. During the first week of classes, 1,090 unique viewers logged on, and a third of them watched with friends or family at home.

Alumni and guests are welcome, but current Cornell students are still Earle’s main focus.

“The actual lecture content hasn’t changed, and I’ve emphasized to alumni and guests that my priority is still the student experience,” Earle wrote.

Correction, April 14, 9:19 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated Earle’s education level. While Earle is an alumnus, he does not hold a doctorate.