Law School professor Ed Rock was recently appointed a senior adviser to the president and provost and director of open course initiatives at Penn. Rock, who will have a major say in the University’s involvement with Coursera moving forward, sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to discuss his position and the future of online learning at Penn.

Daily Pennsylvanian: You are the senior adviser for open course initiatives. How did you get this position, and what does it entail?

Ed Rock: The Coursera opportunity was presented to the University and the president and the provost. After consulting widely but quickly, they decided it was sensible for the University to jump in and commit to Coursera.… I was looking around for something interesting to do, one thing led to another, they asked me if I would take this on. After talking with various people about it and poking around in June, it seemed to me this was a pretty exciting opportunity for the University and a pretty exciting thing to be involved in, so I agreed.

DP: How has the partnership with Coursera been going, and what does Penn gain from it?

ER: The partnership has been going great. The University’s goals are twofold. One is to see if we can use technology to give access to the unbelievable things that are going on here to people who don’t have the ability to come here.… At the same time we firmly believe that doing that and developing courses for Coursera will improve the quality of instruction here at Penn.

DP: Penn was one of the first universities to partner with Coursera. Why was Penn so quick to join the movement in online learning?

ER: We did it because President Gutmann and Provost Price believed in it. They saw it as a huge opportunity for Penn for pursuing our goals of access at the same as making it work within the University.… The internet is going to change higher education, and universities have a choice — they can be part of that conversation shaping how the internet is going to affect what we do, or they could put their heads in the sand and be dragged along by events.

DP: Coursera announced on Sept. 19 that it is doubling the number of partnerships it has with universities, going from 16 to 33. What does this mean for the future of Coursera?

ER: What Coursera’s expansion to 33 schools makes clear is that Coursera is the [platform] for online learning. One of the things a school needs to do, and one of the things that we here at Penn are doing, is think really hard about what we want our online profile to look like.… What it means is that we need — and this is part of why it’s important that we got in early — to figure out an online open learning strategy for Penn. I’m doing this in order to build Penn, not to build Coursera. My hope is that people will come to the Penn open learning site because they will know that when you come to Penn, just as students come here because of the quality of the instruction, you can expect the same quality of courses that you get in-person in University City. And you get the full range of offerings that a great research university has.

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