November 15, 2012
While MOOCs have garnered much media attention this past year for shaking up higher education and challenging traditional classroom methods, one online education company has taken a different approach.
As reported by GigaOM, 2U, formerly 2tor, has partnered with a consortium of ten top-tier institutions to offer a new program, called Semester Online, for undergraduate education completely online and for credit. According to Inside Higher Ed, this is the first known example of prestigious universities offering credit-bearing courses to undergraduates fully online.
"By making for-credit online undergraduate coursework a reality for these top schools, Semester Online represents an important milestone for undergraduate education, one that will influence the wider adoption of for-credit online learning across all of higher education," said Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of 2U, in a news release. "Semester Online demonstrates 2U's mission to help great schools go online and provide high-quality learning experiences for credit, empowering students to continue their education as they follow their ambitions, anywhere."
The new program will begin in the fall of 2013 with Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Norte Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Washington University in St. Louis. Additional partners may join the consortium before the official start, but expansion will be minimal.
"This is really intended to be a consortium of like-minded institutions that have a similar approach to academic integrity and rigor," said Jeremy Johnson, president of undergraduate programs at 2U, in Inside Higher Ed. "They intend for it to be small. I can't imagine it growing to any more than two or two-and-a-half times its current size."
2U already offers a similar online master's degree program, which Semester Online will somewhat mimic by offering similar elements such as live class sessions and discussions, rich self-paced course materials and an online environment that allows students and professors to interact. Furthermore, unlike MOOCs, classes will only have 15 to 20 students with a goal of keeping the virtual classroom experience as close to the intimate on-campus experience as possible.
Inside Higher Ed noted that there will be selective admissions criteria for each course, which will be determined by the universities, and students must pay to enroll. Students will also have the flexibility to take online courses from other partner universities. After completing a course, students will receive the equivalent number of credits.
While the program appears to be a clear win for prospective students, universities will also benefit from the new program. As GigaOM noted, partner schools will be able to expand their digital presence while still maintaining key aspects of their quality campus-based education. Partners will also be able to collaborate and learn from each. Lastly, Inside Higher Ed explained that 2U's mouse-click data, which is collected by its online platform, could help some schools better understand how students learn.
2U's Semester Online, as well as the possibility of select MOOCs to offer college credit, illustrates that online education may just continue to get bigger and better. As Ed Macias, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs of Washington University in St. Louis said, "There isn't any question that online education is an important and impactful extension of our academic offering. 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."
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"2U teams up with top schools to to [sic] show there's more to online ed than MOOCs," gigaom.com, November 15, 2012, Ki Mae Heussner
"Elite Online Courses for Cash and Credit," insidehighered.com, November 15, 2012 Steve Kolowich
"New Consortium of Leading Universities Will Move Forward With Transformative, For-Credit Online Education Program," 2u.com, November 15, 2012