About a year ago, online education platform Coursera launched “specializations” — its version of college credentials. To graduate from the programs, students take a number of classes and then finish a “capstone” project that lets them showcase that they can put their academic knowledge into practice — similar to a senior project in a traditional college environment. The first groups of Coursera students are now reaching this stage of their studies, and to give them more practical experience, the company has gathered a number of industry partners to create (and judge) these projects.
Coursera piloted its projects with Google for its Mobile Cloud Computing specialization and SwiftKey for its Data Science course. Google then featured the top Android apps the students created and featured them in its Play store (and also gave Nexus tablets to the winners).
As Coursera’s CEO and former Yale president Rick Levin told me, the idea behind the capstone projects is to allow students to do something practical with their new knowledge and to create an artifact that can then be valuable itself because it becomes part of the students’ portfolios.
The new batch of partners includes Instagram, Shazam, Snapdeal and 500 Startups. Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, for example, helped create the project and will judge the capstone projects of Coursera’s Interaction Design specialization. And working with the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Coursera partnered with Snapdeal and Shazam to create the project for its Business Foundations students. Finally, 500 Startups will give the top performers in the Entrepreneurship specialization the opportunity to pitch their ideas to its partners.
Tech and business were a natural fit to trial these projects, according to Levin, because there is a lot of demand for career preparation in these fields. While the partnerships aren’t specifically set up to help companies recruit the best students, it’s not something Coursera would ever discourage, and 500 Startups is obviously interested in hearing the students’ pitches to invest in them.
Levin told me that he expects Coursera to expand its partnership around these projects to other fields outside of tech and business, as well. He noted that a philanthropy organization could sponsor a capstone project for special education courses, for example. He also noted that some companies will likely work with students for a while and then pass the baton to others.
“We will let this develop organically,” he told me, noting that it’s obviously not a requirement that the capstone project in every subject must come from an outside organization.