Sunday, September 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Duke University withdraws from online course group

By Tamar Lewin

Duke University has pulled out of Semester Online, an education consortium that will offer online undergraduate courses for credit, after faculty members objected.

The consortium announced Tuesday that it would offer 11 courses this fall, from Boston College, Brandeis, Emory, Northwestern, the University of North Carolina, Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.

But the Arts and Sciences Council at Duke, which represents faculty members from the university’s largest undergraduate college, voted 16-14 last week against participating in the consortium.

“As late as early March, there was no generalized opposition to our joining Semester Online,” said Peter Lange, the Duke provost. “But when the proposal was circulated in March, some people who’d not heard of it before, or not paid sufficient attention, got concerned.”

While Lange saw the consortium as expanding the courses available to Duke students, some faculty members worried that the long-term effect might be for the university to offer fewer courses — and hire fewer professors. Others said there had been inadequate consultation with the faculty.

When 2U, the online education platform that would host the classes, announced Online Semester last year, it named 12 participants, including Duke, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — none of which will be offering courses this fall.

“Schools had to go through their processes to determine how they were going to participate,” said Chance Patterson, a 2U spokesman, “and some decided to wait or go in another direction.”

Semester Online courses will cost $4,200 each. For students at the consortium schools, that tuition would typically be covered by the regular tuition at their home school, Patterson said, while students from other universities would generally have to pay the difference between their own institution’s tuition and the $4,200.

Despite leaving Semester Online, Duke remains actively involved in online classes, offering nearly two dozen courses through Coursera, a venture that provides free online courses, but not for credit. “The difference here is that Semester Online is for credit, and it would have an impact on campus,” Lange said.

Faculty concerns about the spread of online courses may be on the rise. Just two weeks ago, faculty members at Amherst College voted against participating in edX, the nonprofit collaboration founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, citing concerns about costs and about how “massive open online courses” would affect a residential campus devoted to small discussion classes.

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