Wash. U. joins consortium of top schools offering online courses for credit
Washington University’s announcement that it will be joining a consortium of schools including Duke and Northwestern Universities to offer online classes for credit has been greeted with generally positive student sentiments.
The program, called “Semester Online,” will involve creating virtual classrooms that allow students to interact with undergraduates and leading professors at peer institutions. Additionally, the program will enable students to partake in unique classes not currently available at Washington University.
Provost Ed Macias has led the University’s efforts to incorporate online education into its program.
“Online education is on everybody’s mind. It’s all changing pretty rapidly, and so I think we’re all sort of watching and trying to find out what…the best practices will be,” Macias said.
While offering courses online isn’t a new idea, with schools such as the University of Phoenix offering online degree programs since the 1980s, Macias said that offering online courses for credit was only part of the initiative.
“The big ideas were being able to offer credit courses to our undergraduates and to be able to work with a consortium of top schools,” Macias said. “This kind of quality makes it unique.”
Other top schools offer online courses as well, but most of them are not for credit. Earlier this year, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began offering massive open online courses, which provide free open-platform instruction to the public, but those classes cannot be counted toward degrees.
Macias said that details about how “Semester Online” courses may be counted toward distribution or even major requirements will be decided in the upcoming months. Administrators will also be figuring out how to have students register for the classes and which professors will participate.
The technology they will be using for the program, offered through a company called 2U, is currently used by the School of Law’s online LL.M. program.
Students are generally optimistic about how the program may extend the University’s offerings.
“I think it’s a really neat idea. It would kind of help people break out of the Wash. U. bubble. It would expand our course offerings for one thing, which is always good,” sophomore Katherine Smith said. “Just having more classes and being able to take [them] with people who are kind of outside our immediate surroundings is something that is really enriching and I think people would see the value in that.”
“I think for a lecture class, that would be something I would be interested in, just because it would be the equivalent of sitting in a big room with a bunch of people reading off a PowerPoint,” sophomore Anastasia Sorokina said. “I’ve taken online classes before and I think [virtual classrooms] will work fine.”
Other students added that “Semester Online” may be most valuable for larger classes.
“I think it would depend on the class. Certain more discussion-based things, I would rather be in the classroom for that,” freshman Elizabeth Drake said. “I like to be in a room with people and see their faces. I would prefer actual classroom classes.”
Macias said that the pilot program will likely include larger lecture classes of up to 300 students, which students will be able to watch on their own schedule, in addition to participating in video conferencing-based discussions.
Smith said “Semester Online” may be particularly appealing for students not physically on campus.
“If it was offered during the summer, I feel like people would be more likely to do it than if it were offered during the academic year because people already have their schedules pretty full,” she said. “As someone who’s thinking about studying a semester abroad myself and getting a little worried about getting credits in for both my majors, I would absolutely do it. So if they offered a business class or a linguistics class that I could take while I was abroad that the university I was studying at didn’t offer, I would absolutely do that.”
With additional reporting by Wei-Yin Ko and Alex Leichenger.