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UC San Diego Team To Intro Massive Open Online Research

A University of California, San Diego team is launching a massive open online course, "Bioinformatics Algorithms — Part 1," with a substantial research component.

"To our knowledge, this is the first major online course that prominently features massive open online research, or MOOR, rather than just regular coursework" said UC San Diego Computer Science and Engineering Professor Pavel Pevzner, who is offering the course along with two of his graduate students, in a prepared statement. "All students who sign up for the course will be given an opportunity to work on specific research projects under the leadership of prominent bioinformatics scientists from different countries, who have agreed to interact and mentor their respective teams."

The course, to be offered through Coursera, will also feature use of a book, soon to be available in digital form, written by Pevzner and Ph.D. student Phillip Compeau. In addition, colleagues of Pevzner's in Russia "developed a content delivery system that integrates the e-book with hundreds of quizzes and dozens of homework problems," according to a news release.

"We have already started testing the first modules of the Bioinformatics Algorithms course in top Russian universities," said Pevzner. "We are getting good feedback, and we hope to reach out to early students registering for the Coursera course so we can perform a 'stress' test – just to make sure that we will be able to deliver on the promise of massive open online research projects, whether it's hundreds or thousands of students who enroll."

Students will also have use of an educational platform, dubbed Stepic , created by Pevzner's foreign student Nikolay Vyahhi, and Rosalind, a resource for students learning bioinformatics that uses problem solving.

"Rosalind was developed by Pevzner's students and colleagues in San Diego and St. Petersburg with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Russian Ministry of Education, and Russian Internet billionaires Yuri Milner and Pavel Durov through their "Start Fellows" award," according to a news release. "Rosalind already has over 10,000 active users worldwide."

"What sets us apart is combining research with a MOOC," said Compeau, who helped develop the online course, in a prepared statement. "The natural progression of education is for people to make a transition from learning to research, which is a huge jump for many students, and essentially impossible for students in isolated areas. By integrating the research with an interactive text and a MOOC, it creates a pipeline to streamline this transition."

"We say that you should know the basics of programming in whichever computer language you studied," said Rosalind co-founder, who is completing his Ph.D. on combinatorics of genome rearrangements. "But if you don't already know a language, you can probably start from ground zero by working on introductory problems on Rosalind, which will give you the basics in Python after about 10 hours of problem-solving. So students without computer science backgrounds should not shy away from the course."

The eight-week course will launch on October 21. For more information, or to sign up, go to coursera.org . A promotional video about the course is also available at youtube.com .

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

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