Take Free, Online College Classes Featuring Anthony Fauci and Other Covid-19 Experts

MIT’s class includes live-streamed lectures on Tuesday mornings and Purdue’s self-paced course offers a certificate in contact tracing

Stock photo image of a man watching a generic lecture on a desktop computer screen
All classes are free and open to the public. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc.

As colleges and universities begin the academic year, many are offering courses covering what experts know so far about the Covid-19 pandemic. And whether you’re currently a student or haven’t set foot on a campus in years, you can access classes from MIT, Purdue University, Imperial College London and the University of Illinois online for free.

The classes offer opportunities to learn about different facets of the current pandemic from the world’s leading experts. Each university’s class offers a different approach to teaching the disease, so potential students can pick the style that is best for them. Some allow students to go at their own pace, like Purdue’s course which awards a contact tracing certificate to those who complete it.

And others offer livestreamed lectures. MIT’s course, organized by Whitehead Institute geneticist Richard Young and Ragon Institute immunologist Facundo Batista, is a livestreamed lecture every Tuesday starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time. Every week will feature a different guest speaker. And on September 22, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s director Anthony Fauci will give an hour-long lecture titled “Insights from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“The public at large knows Anthony Fauci because he’s such a big presence, but each of these speakers has that level of authority in the subject they're going to talk about,” Young tells Smithsonian of the lineup of lecturers. “And so it is like having an Anthony Fauci for every subject that might be important in understanding this pandemic.”

Lecture 1: "COVID-19 and the pandemic"

“It's a dream team of scientists who are going to tell us where we are with this pandemic,” he adds.

Batista and Young reached out to experts whom they had worked with over the course of their careers studying HIV and AIDS. When they explained the course to their colleagues, each of the guest lecturers volunteered their time immediately, Young says.

About 6,000 people tuned in to the first class with Ragon Institute director Bruce Walker, who gave an overview of the Covid-19 pandemic and research so far. (A recording of the class is available online.) Only registered MIT students can submit questions for the Q&A section after a lecture.

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign also offers a livestreamed Covid-19 course that takes place at 8 p.m. Central time on Sundays. This course will focus less on the hard science of virology and immunology, but more on social science aspects of pandemics. The course includes lectures on mental health, health inequities and food security amid the pandemic.

And if you are looking for courses that allow you to move at your own pace, a course from Imperial College London might be of interest to you. The course launched in February and has since incorporated new information, covering topics in epidemiology and disease modeling as well as economics related to the pandemic.

Another free online course related to the Covid-19 pandemic is Purdue’s contact tracing course. Contact tracing allows public health officials to keep track of who has tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and the people they interacted with while potentially infectious.

Like the course offered by Imperial College London, Purdue’s contact tracing class is on a self-driven schedule. After passing four mini-quizzes with at least B grades, students receive a course completion certificate.

At MIT, the course organizers knew early on that they would offer the class for free to the public.

“We're all so affected by this pandemic right now, and having a source of high quality information from the world's experts on all the relevant science is of value to everyone,” Young says. “I couldn't be more delighted about being able to organize this for the world.”

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