In her first year at UBC, Ennas Abdussalam took an introductory computer science course, “Computation, Programs and Programming.”

Abdussalam sat with hundreds of others in a large lecture halls with hundreds in attendance, went to lab sections, wrote midterms, submitted projects and eventually completed the course — and like most students, she paid for the credits she received, The Ubyssey reports.

Now a computer science major, Abdussalam is in her fourth year and the introductory course that she took is now offered online — for free.

Now called “Introduction to Systematic Program Design, Part 1,” the course is taught by Gregor Kiczales, Abdussalam’s professor from first year, is one of four non-credit massive open online courses, or MOOCs, first offered by UBC in partnership with Coursera in May 2013.

MOOCs — online courses aimed at theoretically unlimited participation (“massive”) and free access through the web (“open”) — have captured much of the spotlight in debates of higher education practices over the past two years.

Coursera first emerged in 2011 as a dominant platform for MOOCs from different universities, operated by Stanford University professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. Two other major providers, Udacity and edX, swiftly followed; The New York Times even dubbed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.”

“When the MOOC thing started happening … exactly how that was going to go was unclear, but that it was going to be important was pretty clear,” said Kiczales, who had been teaching and reinventing his introductory computer science course for many years. The course became one of the first four MOOCs offered by UBC through Coursera.

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