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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller will be among the panelists at an April 5 discussion about online learning and what it means for the future of higher education, the University announced Wednesday.

Friedman and Koller will appear alongside University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan and Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter at the annual Silfen University Forum. Penn President Amy Gutmann will moderate the discussion.

“I like to use the Silfen Forum to showcase some of the most innovative and challenging developments in higher education, and I don’t think anything beats Coursera for being both innovative and challenging,” Gutmann said.

Penn has been at the forefront of the online education movement since it first announced its partnership with Coursera in April 2012.

Last month, one of the University’s Coursera offerings — Mathematics and Engineering professor Robert Ghrist’s course on single variable calculus — was among the first massive open online courses to be recommended for credit by the American Council on Education.

Gutmann said she hopes to use the forum, which is open to those in the University community who pre-register online, to ask the panelists about a variety of issues. In particular, she is looking forward to hearing participants discuss how MOOCs might transform the ways in which professors interact with students in a classroom setting.

In a recent column, Friedman — a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner — wrote that “nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems” than MOOCs.

The Times columnist spent time earlier this month at a conference hosted by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on “Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education.”

Koller, who is also co-CEO of Coursera, spoke on Penn’s campus about the future of online education in October. She used her talk to put Coursera in a global context.

“We don’t know where talent is hidden. The next Steve Jobs might be living in Africa or Bangladesh,” Koller said in October. “If we give that person access to this kind of education, allow them to live up to their potential, then maybe they will make the world a better place for all of us.”

Music professor Carol Muller, who has taught a Coursera course on world music, believes Penn is a good fit to host the forum.

“MOOCs have pushed us to think about the public good and the global community in terms of new ways and capacities to share our knowledge, and Penn has taken an important leadership role in that movement,” she said. “We don’t know what the future of MOOCs is, but this is a good place to start the discussion.”

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