Yale Law School researchers will team up with a tuition-free online university to study how online higher education is perceived worldwide and document what it takes for internet-based institutions to achieve accreditation.
The law school’s Information Society Project (ISP) announced Sept. 22 that it would partner with University of the People, which launched its first courses earlier this month (see "Scholars try tuition-free colleges"), in a project that seeks to learn how the web-based program might boost its validity among powerful world leaders.
"Online learning is a relatively new thing for lawmakers, so all countries don’t know how to deal with it yet," said Shai Reshef, founder and president of the University of the People, which has 179 students enrolled in its two fields so far: computer science and business administration. "We want to … determine the barriers that we need to overcome to operate." Accreditation for online schools, Reshef added, "is a big issue right now."
Reshef would not say whether University of the People is seeking accreditation through its partnership with Yale’s ISP.
The project, he said, would benefit web-based schools worldwide that have struggled to gain acceptance from local and national education officials and legislators.
"Some countries have no problem with it whatsoever," Reshef said, adding that some international education policies require local accreditation before the institution is recognized as a legitimate school. "We want to answer the question: How is online [learning] regulated in other countries? … And who can study [that] better than Yale Law School?"
Jack Balkin, director of Yale’s ISP, said law school officials partnered with University of the People because both institutions have a foundational understanding that "affordable education is a crucial ingredient for human development and human freedom."
"Harnessing new technologies to deliver low-cost education to people around the world is a daring venture," Balkin added. "It is also the kind of experiment that everyone should want to succeed."
University of the People has seen an international, although somewhat mild, response to its tuition-free online programs, which are designed by educators and taught by about 800 volunteer professors–about half of whom are American.
Reshef said the university has 2,300 applicants from 154 countries. University officials decided to split the school year into five terms instead of three because the institution’s pedagogy called for shorter, more focused lessons and reviews.
The year’s first 10-week term started Sept. 10, Reshef said, and the second term will begin Nov. 19. More than 300 students are expected to take classes this winter.
Because University of the People strives to bring higher education to developing nations where college is not an option for many, Laura DeNardis, Yale ISP’s executive director, said teaming with the free online program would advance a common agenda.
Although the proliferation of internet access and social-networking technology has advanced online learning, many people in undeveloped countries have been left without a chance to continue their education after basic schooling, DeNardis said.
"These advancements … have not yet reached their potential to bring effective digital education to the world’s poorest areas–and that is something this collaboration will help change," she said.
Yale’s ISP, founded a decade ago, brings together policy makers, scholars, activists, and students to focus on five main areas of research: protecting and expanding access to knowledge via the internet; finding solutions for social, legal, and ethical problems that crop up in the Information Age; granting teachers better access to online course materials; encouraging intellectual property reform globally; and creating policies that will protect civil rights in a web-based environment.
Enrollment for University of the People’s third term, which begins Feb. 4, 2010, is open. The university charges between $10 and $100 to process student exams taken at the end of each semester. The charge depends on the student’s country of residence.
University of the People
Yale Law School’s Information Society Project