CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Starting next week, anyone in the world can take classes with real West Virginia University professors.
They won't come with college credit. But there's no homework, no tests, and no charge.
Following a movement spreading rapidly through universities and colleges recently, WVU is exploring the concept of massive open online courses.
Also known as "MOOCs," the courses are open to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and a willingness to learn, said Nick Bowman, an assistant professor of communication studies at WVU.
"What differentiates a MOOC from the classroom is the student is on their own," Bowman said Wednesday in a phone interview. "They can do as much or as little as they like. We just make ourselves accessible."
Access to higher education is a problem in West Virginia. WVU might be too expensive for a student, or Morgantown could be too far away, Bowman said. But with a MOOC, anyone in the world can see what universities have to offer.
That's important for several reasons -- people enrolled in the class could realize they enjoy the topic, to the point where they consider eventually enrolling in college, Bowman said. It also shows the outside world what professors are up to.
Bowman likened the course to the Philadelphia Eagles football team hosting a camp for inner-city children. It's no skin off the team's back to hold the camp, but it also lets the students learn the basics from experts.
"It's really more about, we're the people in charge of this stuff," Bowman said. "If we don't do it, who will? If we don't give this information, it's going to come from someone who's not as good at it."
Bowman can't get enough social media. He monitors it constantly, but he's studied it extensively in an academic setting as well. Learning the ins and outs of the technology and understanding its role in today's society is an important topic geared especially well for a MOOC, he explained.
It's a way for academia to directly respond to current events. Bowman cited a story receiving national attention: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and his controversial online relationship.
"Part of what sparks this formula was cases like that. And we're going to talk about that," Bowman said. "When those things happen, we can actually have a response and educate people."
Bowman is teaching a MOOC titled "Learning to cope with our robot overlords." The course examines the daily interaction of people and technology. Students interested in the course register online, providing an age, gender and location.
After registering, the student has access to a Web page. The page offers access to a series of lectures Bowman has videotaped and uploaded to YouTube. There are also PowerPoint presentations and links for other pertinent information.