CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University has announced that it will soon provide massive open online courses, expanding free, non-credit WVU classes to anyone with access to a computer.WVU is one of nine public universities that announced a new partnership with Coursera, a major MOOC provider, to expand its faculty's expertise to more "virtual students."Other universities partnered with Coursera include Stanford and Yale, in addition to the University of Kentucky and the State University of New York.MOOCs are a growing trend in higher education, and are typically non-graded courses open to the public meant to engage large groups for mass discussions and expand lessons to anyone willing to learn.WVU Provost Michele Wheatly called the offering of MOOCs at the university "a massive experiment in online instruction," and said the possibility for tens of thousands of online students can only benefit the university."WVU already has a progressive online course delivery structure in place, so I view this move as a strategic investment in WVU's future," Wheatly said in a release. "I have also spoken to various faculty groups and found them poised to support this innovation in learning as an additional educational tool."The open courses, expected to be offered by next spring, will focus on areas the university is calling "Mountains of Excellence." Subjects will include radio astronomy, public health and 21st century skills.For now, WVU is only offering non-credit courses, but could possibly utilize the content used in MOOCs for credit courses in the future.Aside from West Virginia's Network for Education (WVNET), WVU is the only entity in the state offering MOOCs on such a wide scale, according to the state Higher Education Policy Commission.WVU offered its first MOOC in February, led by communications professors and focusing on the impact of technology on society.WVU Faculty Senate chairman Michael Mays said MOOCs are "perfect vehicles" for lifelong learners to explore ideas in a group setting without the formality of transcripts and academic credit."MOOCs make available to students the experience and accumulated knowledge of an acknowledged expert, like an interactive, multimedia textbook," Mays said. "It is one goal of a university education for students to value knowledge for its own sake. What better way to build a base for a lifetime of learning than for them to get in the habit of browsing in a garden of ideas, guided only by their evolving interests?"Last week, WVU announced the reorganization of its extended and online learning courses under the umbrella of "Academic Innovation" in an attempt to "better champion innovation in the classroom and provide a place for faculty to experiment with emerging tools.""Partnering with Coursera underscores the mission of a 21st century land-grant university to provide access to students," WVU President Jim Clements said in a release. "We're in very good company with some of the top universities and faculty members in the world who've engaged in this emerging educational delivery platform. Our faculty will take the lead as we move forward with new possibilities available through Coursera."Reach Mackenzie Mays at email@example.com or 304-348-4814.