São Paulo University (USP) and the portal company Veduca launched last week the
first Massive Open Online Course in Latin America. Courses will be
taught by USP professors through the platform. Initially two
disciplines will be available: mechanical physics and probability and statistics. More courses are expected to emerge soon.
Brazilians are among the most engaged students in the leading MOOCs that have sprung up in the US, such as Coursera and edX. However, English language is still a barrier. Veduca's first few classes will be taught in Portuguese, a language that native Spanish speakers find managable, too.
"We looked for good teachers that wanted to offer their courses at Veduca. With the announcement, other teachers and even more universities are interested in offering courses," says Eduardo Zancul, co-founder of Veduca. According to the entrepreneur, Veduca is working hard to make its platform readily usable. "We broke long lessons into smaller videos; we inserted quizzes in the middle. Soon we will have a live chat for students who are online," says Zancul.
Other Latin American universities have offered online courses in Spanish through U.S.-based MOOCs. For instance, both the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Tecnológico de Monterrey have offered Coursera programs since May 2013. (Editor's note: Thanks to online commentators below.)
Veduca, which was founded in 2011 by Carlos Souza, curates publicly available educational video content from top universities, adding subtitles in Portuguese. It went live in March 2012. When it launches the two courses with USP, Veduca will add additional functionality such as quizzes, forums, and the possibility of taking notes related to
a certain part of the video.
There's no period of registration; students can apply to take Veduca classes any time they want. Students who want to earn a certificate from Veduca will have to travel to São Paulo and take an exam in person. Veduca and USP hope to partner with other universities to offer this exam in other states, too. "What this certificate means is that this student has a knowledge compatible with what is expected in basic physics at USP. We hope that private universities can accept these classes," says Vanderlei Bagnato, a leading Brazilian scientist at USP who is responsible for the physics course.
Bagnato observes that providing a good education is the key factor to the development of any country. "If we have 15,000 subscribers and only 1,000 of them make the final exam, then a thousand more people will have had access to good education,” he says. Bagnato is also building "science kits" that can be bought online and used in conjunction with the online class. "We can't offer the kit for free. But with it, students can do experiments and submit reports online."
Created in 1934, USP is considered the best university in Latin America according to several international rankings including the QS Top Universities ranking of 2013.
Still a startup, Veduca received $750K from investors including Macmillian Digital Education, Mountain do Brasil SCA (which is based in Luxemborg) and 500 Startups in February 2013.