http://chronicle.com/img/subscribe_11_2011.jpgBy Angela Chen. Mo Li, a Chinese post­doctoral fellow at the University of Mich­i­gan at Ann Arbor, wrote to a Yale University philosophy professor last year with a strange re­quest. Mr. Li had never met the professor, Shelly Kagan, nor had he ever at­tend­ed Yale.
But while working on a doctorate in developmental biology at the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences, in Bei­jing, Mr. Li and his girlfriend had watched free online lec­tures of Mr. Ka­gan's philosophy course "Death" in the summer of 2010. They liked the course—and the professor—so much that when the two decided to marry, Mr. Li asked Mr. Ka­gan to surprise his future wife with "a sen­tence or two of con­grat­u­la­tions on our mar­riage." Mr. Ka­gan did, and Mr. Li and his wife were de­light­ed to hear from the pro­fes­sor whose open courses have made him a star in a coun­try he has nev­er vis­it­ed.
As more and more courses are offered free to anyone with an Internet connection, some American professors have developed a huge following abroad, particularly in China. Another such scholar is Mi­chael J. San­del, a Harvard University professor whose highly popular po­lit­i­cal-phi­los­o­phy course "Justice" was the first Harvard course to be offered free online. More...