November 1, 2012, 5:00 am
By Alisha Azevedo
Two software companies that sell course-management systems, Blackboard and Instructure, have entered the race to provide free online courses for the masses.
On Thursday both companies plan to announce partnerships with universities that will use their software to teach massive open online courses, or MOOC’s. The companies hope to pull in their own college clients to compete with online-education players like Udacity and Coursera.
Instructure has released a new platform called Canvas Network, which allows colleges and universities that already use the company’s learning-management system to offer free courses. A dozen institutions have already agreed to deliver courses on the platform, including Brown University and the University of Washington.
The courses, which will begin in January, are a “response to the MOOC phenomenon that’s been going on,” said Josh Coates, chief executive of Instructure. The courses—20 of them, for starters—will cover a wide range of topics, including one on college algebra and another on gender in comic books that will be co-taught by Stan Lee, who helped create Spider-Man and other characters.
Some universities using Canvas have expressed interest in charging tuition for the online courses in the future or offering course credit for them, Mr. Coates said. The company may also expand the new Canvas Network into secondary education.
Unlike Instructure, Blackboard allows any university to offer MOOC’s on its platform, even if the institutions are not Blackboard clients. Arizona State University, the State University of New York’s Buffalo State College, and the University of Illinois at Springfield chose Blackboard after considering other MOOC providers.
Instructors may be drawn toward teaching MOOC’s on those platforms rather than Udacity or Coursera because they are already familiar with the companies’ course-management software.
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