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Nobel winner backs ANU in global program

Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Brian Schmidt has long been an advocate of open learning – encouraging his young Australian National University undergraduates to sit in on lectures which are not part of their degree - just to satisfy their curiosity and to learn for the sake of it.

From next year, anyone interested in Professor Schmidt's own insights into the universe will be able to sit in on his virtual classroom as they take an online course in astrophysics delivered by the ANU via edX.

Professor Schmidt is one of the driving forces behind the ANU's decision to join edX - a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC.

edX provides entire subjects free to the public online – with course matter delivered from 12 partner universities around the world.

Professor Schmidt believes the edX model, a not-for-profit venture started between his alma mater Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has the potential to revolutionise learning opportunities across the globe and allow anyone with a computer a chance to download course content that is usually only accessible for university students.

"edX brings together the best universities in a non-profit model, which I think is entirely appropriate for ANU, Australia's national university. It will help us potentially teach students who can't come to ANU for a range of reasons, but more interestingly, help us reach high school students and help us make up for some of the deficiencies in secondary education around the country due to shortages of highly qualified teachers," Professor Schmidt said.


"I'm very excited about the prospects of edX in being able to teach not just to wider audience, but even to enhance our ANU audience. For me, it is a way to better communicate with students realising that students are different to what they used to be. I watch my own kids going through things on the internet, playing with ideas, understanding them and repeating it until they get it. And while lecturing is important, this is a different way of getting information to them."

He also expected to benefit from "cross-fertilization, where even in my own course, I will use other people's material in the long term, as they will use mine."

He and fellow astronomer Dr Paul Francis will spend the rest of the year devising new and interactive online content for their Astrophysics unit which will go global in 2014.

"We are not going to put people's transparencies up on a webpage, we are going in and making it truly interactive and exploiting the platform."

He was also keen to learn about his own performance as an educator through feedback on his performance and how effectively students learned from him.

"We will be able to get evidence on what works and what doesn't work so we can improve and keep on improving. I want to do a good job of what I am doing, and sometimes it's hard to tell."