Fredrickson said the free course, which is only six weeks long, lets people of all ages from all over the world explore without strict accountability. The course, taught through the website Coursera, doesn’t substitute for a traditional classroom, she said.
“Most people that are enrolled — 95 percent of them — say that they’re interested out of their own curiosity,” she said. “(The course) is applicable to anybody. It’s not necessarily something that people need to get a degree in.”
The class, Fredrickson’s first MOOC, has grown popular since it began on Feb. 9.
“The first week it was adding several thousand a day and this week there’s been several hundred per day,” Fredrickson said. “The last couple days the rate of increase has slowed, but it wouldn’t be surprising for us to pass 50,000.”
Provost Jim Dean said UNC is happy to have an agreement with Coursera.
“They came to us some time ago and asked us if we wanted to cooperate and we do,” Dean said. “UNC asks for proposals from faculty and then we work with the faculty to develop the classes.”
He said he thinks it’s an appropriate time for Fredrickson to be teaching this course at UNC.
“She’s teaching a course on positive psych during a time when UNC is experiencing such tragedy on campus and her students are reaching out to UNC using her courses’ forums,” Dean said, referencing the triple homicide in Chapel Hill earlier this month.
Fredrickson said the course videos were filmed to simulate an in-person classroom.
“The course is based on a small group format of teaching, but it’s a small group that we have prerecorded,” Fredrickson said. “Because of the need to get really good audio and video, it was limited to a very small class. There were only four people in that class.”
She writes books about psychology, but she said she knows that’s not going to reach the broad audience that it used to.
“I’ve written a couple of books for general audience and one of the things that’s clear about our changing audience is that people don’t necessarily want to read books, but they like ideas,” she said.
Leonard White, a neurobiology professor at Duke University who teaches two Coursera courses, said Coursera wants to be profitable, but the company, professors and universities are not currently making any money from the open online courses.
“I’m not making any money. This is considered something that I would be willing to do something in my spare time,” White said.
White said major universities are all offering MOOCs or are trying to establish them.
“It really is part of the higher education landscape and I think it’s here for the foreseeable future,” White said. “I think education is good and free education is better and there are, I’m sure, quite a few North Carolinians that are enrolled in these courses.”