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Your homework? Give money to charity

Northeastern University and the Learning by Giving Foundation have launched the world’s first massive online open course on philanthropy and informed civic engagement.

Over the next four weeks, some 10,000 students from more than 70 countries will evaluate scores of nonprofit organizations and then use the foundation’s money to award grants to the most deserving groups.

Founded by the sister of billionaire business magnate Warren Buffett, the Learning By Giving Foundation promotes philanthropy at the undergraduate level with the hope of inspiring students to become leaders in their communities.

The course will be taught by Rebecca Riccio, founding program director of Northeastern Students4Giving and a member of the foundation’s academic advisory committee. NS4G receives $10,000 per year from the foundation to make grants to nonprofit organizations that address social and economic challenges such as youth violence, homelessness, and community development.

“This online version of the course is a collaborative project for the public good,” Riccio explained, noting that students and alumni of NS4G will serve as teaching assistants. “It is at once fun, intellectually engaging, and socially beneficial.”

The MOOC, called “Giving With Purpose,” has been featured in hundreds of publications around the world, ranging from The Chronicle of Philanthropy to the Wall Street Journal. Designed using Google’s Course Builder, it comprises six 30-minute lectures and includes interviews with well-known national philanthropists such as Warren Buffet, baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr., and news anchor Soledad O’Brien.

“We only invited philanthropists who have given a lot of thought to how and why they give, so their personal lessons learned can apply to anyone,” Riccio explained. “Their practical advice will reinforce what I’m teaching in theory.”

The course, which is non-accredited, features two educational tracks. “Givers” nominate one nonprofit organization in their community to receive a grant and then apply Riccio’s assessment tool to their organization and others in the region. “Learners” complete coursework and receive a certificate upon completion. The nonprofit in each region that receives the best evaluations will receive a grant.

“I want to teach students how to give with their heads and their hearts,” Riccio said. “We want the students to feel passionate about where they are giving while investing in organizations that can use the money effectively.”