In just a few days, anyone will be able to take the Linux Foundation's "Introduction to Linux" course—which previously cost $2,400—for free over the Internet. The MOOC version of the class on the open source operating system, hosted on edX, opens Aug. 1.
The Linux Foundation first announced back in March that it would be transforming "Introduction to Linux," a class it traditionally has offered in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting with a $2,400 price tag, into a massively open online course (MOOC), in which anyone can enroll via the Internet. Now, the Linux Foundation and its partner in the initiative, open source MOOC host edX, have specified Aug. 1 as the starting date of classes. Registration is already open.
The course will be led by Jerry Cooperstein, a scientist and Linux Foundation employee who has previous experience teaching college-level courses for both undergraduates and graduate students. Enrollment in the course is free and open to anyone around the world, with a certificate of completion available to students who finish the course successfully. For $250, edX also offers a "Verified Certificate of Achievement" to course graduates, which it said can be more useful than the free certificate for bolstering job or school applications.
Personally, as a college professor who teaches history courses in a traditional classroom setting—and whose introduction to Linux came through an old-fashioned course that I'm pleased to see is still offered at my alma mater—I admit to some ambivalence about MOOCs, which I'm not sure can deliver students the same richness of experience that comes from sitting down in real life with an instructor.
On the other hand, there's a big difference between my seminar on revolutionary France and a course that teaches the basics of the world's leading open source operating system. Explaining the purpose of /dev/null and how to use "awk" may be more feasible to do on a massive scale over the Internet than getting students to think about what the French government meant when it declared itself "revolutionary until the peace" in 1793.
It's also worth noting that only a small minority of the world's population enjoys the opportunity to take courses such as "Unix Tools" in a college setting. Millions of people don't have access to a university education, or the ability to pay $2,400 for a course from the Linux Foundation. And plenty of people who are lucky enough to be college students pay by the credit hour, which could make it hard to tack a course about Linux onto one's schedule if it's not a requirement.
So if edX and the Linux Foundation can use MOOCs to erase a steep cost barrier and allow thousands more people to learn about open source software, I'm all for it. Statistically, it may be unlikely that many students will complete the class—though that may not matter, according to edX—and their experiences might not prove quite as fulfilling as those of CS majors who learn about Linux in traditional college classrooms. But few things in life are ideal, and the ability of the course to reach a much wider audience certainly outweighs those costs.