UC Berkeley professors post lectures online for free public access

Photo of someone watching a Zoom lecture
Vanessa Lim/Staff
Through online platforms such as edX and UCTV’s YouTube channel, some professors at UC Berkeley have been able to make their course materials publicly available for free. The UCTV YouTube channel has about 690,000 subscribers as of press time.

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Some UC Berkeley professors are choosing to offer their class lectures online and free of charge to the public on platforms such as the UCTV YouTube channel and edX, a website for free online classes.

David Wagner, campus electrical engineering and computer sciences professor, teaches Data 8 and Data 8X — a free online course based on Data 8 with customized assignments. The campus course contains some material not covered in the free course, and some homework assignments and projects from the campus course do not appear on the online version.

“Part of our mission as a public university is to serve the public and I’m grateful to be part of a team that values that,” Wagner said in an email. “I’m excited that we can take teaching methods that we’ve pioneered and refined here at Berkeley and make them available not just to the population of Cal students, but to the world.”

Wagner said free online courses provide educational opportunities for those unable to attend UC Berkeley, adding that free courses are not in competition with campus courses, as they serve different audiences.

Although the online class is free, participants can receive a certificate for a fee, which helps raise money for data science programs, according to Wagner. The process of supporting a large online course has also helped refine software that benefits campus courses, Wagner added.

“I wouldn’t work on free courses if I thought they caused harm to Cal students,” Wagner said in the email. “On the whole, everyone benefits from broader access to education.”

Michael Cohen, campus American studies and African American studies associate teaching professor, co-taught a Big Ideas course this semester that gave a real-time analysis of the 2020 election.

Lectures were posted on the UCTV YouTube channel, which has approximately 690,000 subscribers as of press time.

“Making the work that we do as a university available to a wider audience is in the heart of the mission of the public university,” Cohen said.

Cohen added that making the class publicly accessible was easier during the COVID-19 pandemic, as lectures were already being recorded on Zoom. The online version of the class was made up solely of lectures, and the public audience was not assigned work.

In the past, Cohen had a course of his on iTunes U for free, where he reached a global audience, but he said the lectures were deleted. Cohen added that he is against the “privatization of knowledge” and hopes the campus encourages making more classes available online for free in the future.

“I understand that the university is in the business of offering degrees and units and that, I think, is why you enroll, why you pay tuition and why you get the credentials,” Cohen said. “But the knowledge itself — the intellectual labor and the intellectual property that we produce — should be as widely distributed as possible.”

Contact Lauren Good at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.