Universities combine for 'Semester Online'

by Chicago Tribune
A consortium of U.S. universities -- including Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame -- is launching a new online course program next fall in which undergraduate students can tap into live classes from participating schools across the country.

Ten universities announced their collaboration Thursday on "Semester Online," a platform developed by educational technology company 2U.

Enrollment for each virtual classroom will be capped at 20 students, 2U Co-Founder and CEO Chip Paucek said. Students will have materials to read and review on their own time and then schedule group video discussions with the professor and peers.

Other universities participating in the consortium include Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Washington University in St. Louis.

With more and more students plugged in to laptops during class -- whether vigorously taking notes or multitasking -- professors of large universities are often looking at the back of a laptop screen, Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer said.

With the real-time online courses, professors will instead be staring at the other side of the computer -- straight into the face of the student, he said.

"There's no back row in online courses; there's nowhere to hide," Linzer said. "Every student is engaged. We're turning technology around to enable a more productive discussion in a smaller classroom setting."

Linzer said he believes there's a desire for online courses to be made available for the technologically savvy students he sees at Northwestern.

Students can take the courses from anywhere they have Internet access, Linzer said, meaning those who are studying abroad, taking out-of-state internships or participating in off-campus research can continue taking classes instead of putting their education on hold.

Initial pilot courses for the Semester Online program will likely be introductory level or of broad interest, Linzer said. As professors develop and propose new web-based courses, the universities "should build up to have more advanced courses as well," he said.

Paucek said the courses will be open to those who meet the qualifications to take the course -- not just students attending schools in the consortium. More information about the Semester Online courses is expected to be released in early 2013, he said.

Students won't be able to earn a bachelor's degree by online courses only. Rather, the courses are intended to help the student work toward a degree, according to Semester Online's website.

Northwestern requires undergraduates to take a certain number of courses on-site at the university campus.

The consortium is still open, and Duke University Provost Peter Lange said Thursday he anticipates other universities will join prior to the program's launch next fall. Linzer said the collaboration and planning for Semester Online began about a year ago.

The cost of the courses has not been finalized, Linzer said, but is expected to be comparable to the cost of taking the course on campus.

Linzer said tuition money for the online courses will flow into the consortium and then be distributed to the participating institutions.

The program is an "investment" for Northwestern, Linzer said, but he hopes the university will see a return on the project.

"Like it or not, online education is happening," Linzer said. "We want to help figure out how to do this in the best way possible so we benefit from this. It's better to be in there from the beginning and learn from mistakes."



(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Related Articles