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The course, which will be taught by Charles Cockell, a professor of Astrobiology, is one of six being offered as part of the Coursera scheme – a US-run project backed by Stanford and Princeton universities which encourages leading institutions from around the world to make high-calibre courses available globally.
“We took the decision to offer courses that reflect our specific strengths,” said Ranald Leask, a spokesman for the university. “Something like extraterrestrial life comes out of a wide and deep base of knowledge and academic endeavour.”
“We have one of the world’s leading schools of Science and Engineering. You could see this [extraterrestrial life] as a more niche area within Science and Engineering.”
Professor Cockell is the author of books including Response of Organisms to the Martian Environment and A Station for the Martian Geographic North Pole, and is Director for the UK Centre for Astrobiology.
The course will aim to answer questions such as “Is there life on other planetary bodies?”, and “How is it distributed throughout the Universe?”.
Edinburgh will also offer five other courses including “Equine Nutrition” and “Artificial Intelligence Planning” as a part of the scheme, which focuses on offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to a global audience.
Members of the consortium hope the experiment can “reinvent” the higher education landscape, with students signing up from around the world for four hours’ study each week, consisting of an hour of lectures, one hour of discussion and additional self-study.
“We are trying to pick subjects that will interest people who may not have a higher education background, but at the same time these courses are based on a strong basis of knowledge,” said Leask.
“Enabling wider access to excellent higher education is part of the core mission of the University of Edinburgh,” said Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of The University of Edinburgh. “We are therefore excited to join with our peers in North America in the Coursera consortium to offer Massive Open Online Courses on topics in which we have particular strengths.”
Article by The Telegraph