University looks into providing video courses online

As many top-tier universities begin to integrate their educational systems with the digital age, Washington University is undergoing research to design video courses that can closely reflect the classroom experience.

Provost Ed Macias described the University’s possible venture into online courses as one of experimentation.

“While there have been lots of experiments and lots of progress over the last few years, this—the technology and the techniques—is all still evolving,” Macias said. “So we’ve been trying some things, we’ve been watching what’s happening and we’re trying to learn from these various activities. We’re trying to determine what would be the best practice.”

Last May, Washington University’s School of Law created @WashULaw, a Master of Laws in U.S. Law for Foreign Lawyers program, taught through online classes. The program, which will begin in January 2013, was designed to allow foreign attorneys to gain knowledge about U.S. law without having to leave their native countries.

Macias said that @WashULaw is an example of one of the steps the University was taking toward integrating higher education with online learning.

“Online courses have the potential to really bring us something new to our education,” Macias said. “It would allow opportunities for Washington University, for our students and for lots of other people that are not on campus, if we can figure out how to do it right.”

@WashULaw will consist of both asynchronous materials, such as case studies and videos, and live synchronous sessions, in the form of real-time discussions between students and faculty.

“There’s a real comfort level and a nice opportunity for everyone to be on the same page when you start the live session,” said Tomea Mersmann, associate dean for strategic initiatives and co-director of @WashULaw.

She said she believes that the program will allow the University to reach more students around the world.

“Most institutions are interested in exploring the beneficial uses of this type of education—where does it fit and where does it not, where does it work with our community and our pedagogy, and when does it not work,” Mersmann said.

Sophomore Tobeya Ibitayo believes that an academic experience based solely on online learning would provide the same level of knowledge as an in-class lecture, but would not be able to duplicate the college experience.

“That would be rejecting the standards of an institution that has been around for centuries,” Ibitayo said. “It is something that the University prides itself on doing successfully, [creating] a holistic environment of the collegiate setting for the development of an individual in the context of an intellectual community. I don’t know how accessible that community would be to students from such a standpoint as the online course.”

However, Ibitayo acknowledged that the trend toward online classes was a sustainable model for education that allows for greater intellectual development among students.

“A lot of students who want to receive more from their academic experience really can’t take advantage of it in the most complete way inside the classroom,” he said. “They seek enrichment elsewhere. Using online media as a means of making that available, not only to students but also to people who have a vested interest in those topics, is a great way of making our society more accessible educationally and intellectually.”

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