A consortium of 10 well-regarded universities has launched an innovative program called Semester Online that will allow undergraduate students to take online courses for credit through other universities within the group.
Current consortium members are Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, and Washington University in St. Louis. More universities are expected to join before Semester Online’s anticipated launch in fall 2013.
Delivered through a virtual classroom environment, Semester Online was developed by 2U, formerly known as 2tor, a company that partners with elite universities to deliver select for-credit graduate programs online; Semester Online is 2U’s first venture into online undergraduate coursework.
Prior to joining the Semester Online consortium, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill launched MBA@UNC and MPA@UNC, two online graduate degree programs, through 2U. Chance Patterson of 2U said UNC’s continued involvement with the company is a testament to its success.
“I think that’s the best evidence that what we’re doing and building with these schools is working,” Patterson said. “You really want a situation where the students pay for school and have lots of choices for great curriculum. Semester Online offers lots of choices, so schools can do together what they really can’t do standing alone.”
Besides providing more course options for students, the Semester Online network will feature relaxed, high-quality interactions between students and professors.
“There’s no sitting in the back row hiding or anything like that, you’re engaged with everything that’s happening,” Patterson said. “I think that whole concept compels people to think and learn. I also like the idea that course materials are housed in one place, so it’s convenient and you can really study and focus anywhere.”
He added: “The variety of courses that you’ll be able to take from great schools—that has never happened before. I think it’ll be exciting for students to look at the course catalogue, and if there’s a particular professor at a school that they admire or heard good things about, they can sign up and join his or her class.”
Though specific details about student application processes and planned course schedules will not be available until early 2013, professors already anticipate that Semester Online will greatly enhance their courses. Students will feel connected to their peers through online discussions and exercises and to their professors through recorded lectures and supplement materials.
Ed Macias, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs of Washington University in St. Louis, believes the Semester Online program will allow students to branch outside of their own environments. He thinks that students will benefit from having the opportunity to learn from and with different people about various course topics.
“There isn’t any question that online education is an important and impactful extension of our academic offering,” Macias said. “The challenge has been developing a web-based program that mirrors the richness and robustness of the in-classroom experience and applies credit toward earning a degree. Semester Online does just that. The program will be a significant step forward.”
Earl Lewis, provost of Emory University, is particularly excited for his students to experience the accessibility that Semester Online provides.
“Now, no matter where they are in the world, students will have the opportunity to engage in internships and work experiences, travel, or manage personal commitments while continuing their collegiate academic journey,” Lewis said.
The consortium of universities participating in the Semester Online program will work together to provide the best material and resources to its larger and more diverse network of students.
“These courses will expand curricular options for students and will enable consortium schools to work collaboratively to develop the most innovative and successful ways to utilize new learning technologies,” said Daniel Linzer, provost of Northwestern University. “Students from all over the country, or even from abroad, will be able to attend these online classes in real time—classes of about 15 to 20 students taught by professors at some of the nation’s leading universities.”
Macias is hopeful that the consortium of universities’ collaborations will highlight the true goal of all educators: enhance learning for their students.
“All of us will be working with our respective faculty, staff, and students to operationalize the program and develop guidelines for our students prior to launch next fall,” Macias said. “There are further issues to resolve, however, it is tremendously exciting that this group of leading institutions has come together and is committed to moving forward the concept of Semester One.”
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