It's not going to be your average first day of school.

Northwestern University's Medill School is launching its first "massively open online course" next week, called "Understanding Media by Understanding Google."

I'm the professor, and my virtual classroom has more than 40,000 students enrolled. That would be approximately 1,000 times more than would be sitting in the "on-premises" undergraduate course I used as a springboard for this curriculum.

The rapidly expanding universe of colleges and universities offering these online courses includes Princeton, Stanford, Yale, MIT, The Ohio State, University of Pennsylvania, UCLA and hundreds more around the globe. Northwestern has other...

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