CS @ ILLINOIS MOOC Enrollment Continues to Soar as New Specializations Launch

4/23/2015 8:11:00 AM By Tom Moone, CS @ ILLINOIS

Nearly 600,000 people have enrolled in massive, open online courses (MOOCs) from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 2012, when Illinois joined the Coursera MOOC platform. The total number of participants in MOOCs through the university as a whole is nearly 1.4 million. Courses through CS @ ILLINOIS account for 40% of that number.

MOOCS enable participants to take courses anywhere they have access to a computer.
MOOCS enable participants to take courses anywhere they have access to a computer.

New, recently announced specialization sequences added this spring will only help increase this presence.

Developed at CS @ ILLINOIS as part of a partnership between Coursera and the University of Illinois, two computer science specializations are now available: one in data mining, and one in cloud computing. Already the courses in these specializations have already acquired over 75,000 learners.

The cloud computing specialization includes five courses in distributed systems, cloud apps, and networking. The data mining specialization includes six courses in data mining, text mining, and data visualization. Both specializations require a capstone project, which allows participants to demonstrate their new knowledge on a substantial project using realistic data.

Indranil Gupta
Indranil Gupta

“There is hungry demand from companies for developers who understand how to use cloud computing systems, how to build cloud computing systems, and how to make these systems run efficiently,” said CS Associate Professor Indranil Gupta, who is teaching the first course in the cloud computing specialization. “Many people, who already have some experience with computer systems, want increase their knowledge base so that they can either apply for such jobs or write their own cloud computing services or systems.”

Students in Gupta’s Cloud Computing Concepts course, especially those who are full-time employees in industry, reported that they found the course to be intense but useful and rewarding. In addition, at least one startup that Gupta knows of has most of its employees taking the course.

Jiawei Han
Jiawei Han

One of the courses in the data mining specialization—“Pattern Discovery in Data Mining” with CS Professor Jiawei Han—was listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Anticipated MOOCs of 2015” as compiled by Class Central, an aggregator of MOOC course listings.

Pattern Discovery in Data Mining covers general concepts of data mining, along with basic methodologies and applications. Students then move to an in-depth look at pattern discovery, a subfield in data mining. More than 84,000 learners registered for this course.

Being created outside a classroom adds some challenges to course preparation. Materials have to be prepared meticulously to allow students with a wide range of backgrounds to understand the content.

“Teaching this course gives me many good lessons on how to prepare everything carefully and explain the concepts and methods down to the details,” said Han. “It is a great experience, and it will help my future teaching and research as well.

In the three years since joining Coursera, CS @ ILLINOIS has offered 7 different courses, and several have been offered multiple times. The courses range in target audience from the general public (such as a course on creating Android apps) to those for more specialized audiences (such as a course on VLSI CAD).

Lawrence Angrave
Lawrence Angrave

The largest course from CS @ ILLINOIS was “Creative, Serious and Playful Science of Android Apps” taught by CS Lecturer Lawrence Angrave. When first offered in 2013, that course had over 167,000 enrolled, which places it among the largest enrollment of any Coursera course up to that time.

The broad reach MOOCs have helps illustrate the pervasive and global desire to learn. For example, the Cloud Computing Concepts MOOC with Professor Gupta has registered learners from 197 different countries across the world. The Pattern Discovery in Data Mining course with Professor Han had learners from 192 countries.

While MOOCs offered through Coursera can be taken free of charge, there is a cost to receive a certificate for completing the “Signature Tracks.” Learners completing these tracks pay a fee of $49 per course. Full certification for the specialization is also contingent on completing the capstone project.

Other specialization partnerships between the University of Illinois and Coursera have been made with the College of Business, which also offers a pair of specializations, collaborating with Illinois’ College of Media. Those specializations are in Digital Marketing and Improving Business Finances and Operations.

More information on the specializations can be found at the following Coursera pages: