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McCormick Launching New MOOCs in 2014

Popular massive open online courses continue this winter, start Jan. 13

Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering is offering two open online courses (MOOCs) in winter 2014, examining life cycle environmental assessment and fundamentals of digital image and video processing.

The University offered its first MOOCs last fall, when three online courses attracted interest from more than 68,000 students around the world. To do so, Northwestern partnered with Coursera ( to provide its MOOCs on Coursera’s digital platform to anyone, anywhere, for free.

Here are the two new McCormick MOOCs:

· On Jan. 25, Eric Masanet, associate professor of mechanical engineering and chemical and biological engineering, will begin teaching How Green Is That Product? An Introduction to Life Cycle Environmental Assessment. The course will train students in the mathematics of analyzing and comparing the environmental footprints of different products. Masanet argues that people should take a holistic systems view when seeking answers and use a quantitative approach known as life cycle assessment (LCA). More than 10,000 prospective students have registered so far. For more, see: To see a video summary of the course, go to:

· On March 31, McCormick School Professor and AT&T Chair Aggelos Katsaggelos will start teaching Fundamentals of Digital Image and Video Processing. This course will examine how to master the use of image and video signals that might be useful for engineering/science students, software developers, or practicing scientists. Digital image and video processing continues to enable the multimedia technology revolution we are experiencing today. About 20,000 prospective students have registered so far. For more, see: To see a video summary of the course, go to:

A third Northwestern MOOC, Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization, will be taught by 10 expert Northwestern professors led by John Lavine, professor and director of Northwestern’s Media Management Center.

The Coursera model offers noncredit courses through a platform that allows open enrollment with no admissions requirements and no tuition costs. Because of the asynchronous course delivery, students can complete the work at times convenient for them. Elements of the procedures Northwestern faculty learn by helping develop MOOCs may be adapted over time to on-campus teaching at the University. 

“One of our primary goals in joining Coursera is to give our faculty the opportunity to explore new pedagogical and course delivery methods through MOOCs,” Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer explained.

“It has been fascinating to observe how creatively faculty members teaching our first three MOOCs have applied and plan to apply their online course materials to the learning experiences of Northwestern students on campus,” he said. “Our undergraduate, graduate and professional students are gaining directly from these professors’ experimentation with new modes of teaching and learning.”

The University joined what is now over 100 international and U.S. institutions working with Coursera — which has more than 5 million registered users from 190 countries considering more than 500 courses. See a list of all of Coursera’s global partners: (

Here is more detailed information on the two new McCormick MOOCs coming in 2014.

How Green Is That Product? An Introduction to Life Cycle Environmental Assessment

Paper or plastic? Hybrid or conventional vehicles? Which is better for the environment? To answer these questions, Eric Masanet believes, one must take a holistic systems view using a quantitative approach known as life cycle assessment.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a fundamental method for assessing the environmental impacts of products and technologies from a "cradle to grave" systems perspective. It is an essential tool for anyone who performs environmental analyses or uses the results of such analyses for decision-making. 

Eric Masanet

“I think taking this line of approach in a MOOC is a way to reach people all over the world who don’t necessarily have access to a Northwestern University education,” said Masanet, an expert on sustainability.

“This is also a great way for Northwestern University to plant its flag and demonstrate some of the great work so many people do here on sustainability,” he said, noting the course will use real-world examples to teach students how to make better decisions.

The preparation work for the MOOC, he added, included some 400 hours of work in all and taught him valuable lessons about his own teaching methods. The nine-week course includes 27 lecture videos five to 15 minutes long, multiple readings, case studies and a course project.

Students also will need to bring some quantitative skills and critical thinking to the material, which will examine green issues and quickly demonstrate that sustainability is a complicated field involving quantitative study and tradeoffs to make informed decisions about consumer behavior and consumption.

Assessing the life cycle and environmental impact of a plastic bottle, for example, involves examining a complex array of inputs, including the amount of raw material used, the manufacturing impacts, the distribution methods, product use, and disposal impacts, Masanet said.

Fundamentals of Digital Image and Video Processing

Aggelos Katsaggelos’s new MOOC will instruct students on the basic principles and tools used to process images and videos and how to apply them in solving practical problems of commercial and scientific interest.

Through discussion of digital image enhancement by computer, Katsaggelos will examine how to diminish degradation of images to improve them for the human eye. By examining signal processing principles, the course will reveal how video compression is a key technology behind the multimedia revolution, affecting everything from medical image processing to Facetime on your iPhone.

Aggelos Katsaggelos“The power of the MOOC idea is you can reach someone at the other end of the world, and he or she would have access to a course they might not otherwise have access to,” said Katsaggelos, who works in McCormick’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and is also director of the Motorola Center for Seamless Communications.

The course is designed for researchers, practicing engineers, undergraduates with a knowledge of engineering or science, and even high-level high school students. Katsaggelos said to prepare the course he has had to condense material from two regular courses he teaches into a 12-week course. It will consist of roughly 60 videos of 10 to 15 minutes each, image and video demonstrations, readings, and multiple-choice tests. Mathlab software with several toolboxes will be provided to students for performing various image and video processing tasks, such as analysis, object tracking, or compression.

“The MOOC forced me to organize the material and to be more succinct in my lectures,” said Katsaggelos, whose students will benefit from his lectures on science knowledge, computer algorithms, and real-world experience that have won him considerable media attention.

Among his many achievements was using computer analysis to help enhance the often blurred images that first came to NASA scientists from the troubled Hubble Space Telescope. Katsaggelos developed an algorithm to remove the distortion introduced by the “myopic” telescope as well as the noise and to provide the scientists with images richer in detail and information. He has also worked with the Art Institute of Chicago and McCormick colleague Sotirios Tsaftaris developing an algorithm to help colorize a 1913 black-and-white photograph of a painting by Henri Matisse called “Bathers by a River.” Their work provided important insight into Matisse’s artistic evolution.