Scholars at Risk’s Free Online Course on Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom

By: Scholars at Risk staff

Woman holding clipboard stands in front of people sitting around a meeting table, with protesters holding signs outside that say "Academic Freedom" and "Free  Professor"
Animation featured in the online course, “Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters”

Scholars and students around the world ask questions — questions about the environment; questions about health; questions about poverty and development; questions about justice; questions about truth. And the answers to these questions affect all of society. But sometimes asking questions can be dangerous. Academic freedom protects the right to ask sensitive, even dangerous questions—not just scholars’ questions, but the freedom for you to think and ask questions that really matter.

The Scholars at Risk (SAR) Network has developed a free massive open online course (MOOC) on academic freedom titled Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters. The course in its current form was developed with SAR partners on the Academic Refuge Project* and is in its fourth run on the FutureLearn platform. In its previous three runs, the dynamic course saw over 2,300 learners enrolling from 124 countries.

The self-paced Dangerous Questions runs on a three-week schedule, with weekly participation averaging approximately three hours. Topics covered in the course include

  • examining the traditional and socially-engaged views of academic freedom;
  • understanding the interconnectedness of academic freedom with other core higher education values;
  • academic freedom versus free expression;
  • the limits of academic freedom;
  • threats to academic freedom and associated consequences;
  • the broader societal benefit of academic freedom;
  • and proactive practices that communities of higher education stakeholders can implement to strengthen core values at their institutions and within their partnerships.

The topics covered throughout the course are explored through various pedagogical approaches including interactive puzzles and quizzes, animations, testimonials, and video lectures. Each week of the course features opportunities for open discussion and debate, offering participants from around the world to engage with the content and learn from others’ diverse perspectives and experiences with academic freedom in their institutional and geographical contexts. As one participant shared, “the opportunity to share and discuss with peers from across the globe really [added] to the learning experience around these vital, contemporary, universal matters.” Course moderators also participate in this dialogue and offer relevant resources that may be of interest.

The course is designed for students and staff in higher education but is relevant for anyone interested in asking critical questions. Participants from previous course runs have recommended Dangerous Questions to “everyone who is associated with academic, teaching, research, or [the] higher education system in general.” Another participant reflected, “I must admit I had a limited view of academic freedom until now. Quite an enriching course that has provided me with the necessary knowledge and skills to manage academic freedom.”

Interested in learning more about academic freedom and core higher education values? Register for Dangerous Questions or contact Chelsea Blackburn Cohen with any questions.

*The Academic Refuge project aims to improve the capacity of European universities to assist refugees and threatened academics on campus and to promote understanding and respect for higher education values. Partners include the University of Oslo, the UNICA network, the University of Ljubljana and Scholars at Risk. The European University Association (EUA), the European Association of International Education (EAIE), Al-Fanar Media, and University World News are associate partners on the project.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of higher education institutions and individuals working to protect threatened scholars, prevent attacks on higher education, and promote academic freedom and related values.

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