University Consortium to Offer Small Online Courses for Credit

Starting next fall, 10 prominent universities, including Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Northwestern, will form a consortium called Semester Online, offering about 30 online courses to both their students — for whom the classes will be covered by their regular tuition — and to students elsewhere who would have to apply and be accepted and pay tuition of more than $4,000 a course.
Semester Online will be operated through the educational platform 2U, formerly known as 2tor, and will simulate many aspects of a classroom: Students will be able to raise their hands virtually, break into smaller discussion groups and arrange and hold online study sessions.
The virtual classroom is a cross between a Google+ hangout and the opening sequence of “The Brady Bunch,” where each student has his or her own square, the equivalent of a classroom chair. However, with Semester Online courses, there is no sneaking in late and unnoticed, and there is no back row.
Unlike the increasingly popular massive open online courses, or MOOCs, free classes offered by universities like Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford, Semester Online classes will be small — and will offer credit.
“Now we can provide students with a course that mirrors our classroom experience,” says Edward S. Macias, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the participants.
“It’s going to be the most rigorous, live, for-credit online experience ever,” said Chip Paucek, a founder of 2U.
For many of the participating schools, which include Brandeis, Emory, Notre Dame, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest, Semester Online offerings will be their first undergraduate for-credit online courses, and the first to offer credit to students from outside the universities.
One draw for the colleges is the expansion in their course catalogs.
“No university can deliver the full range of courses that both might be interesting and useful and enlightening to our students,” said Peter Lange, the provost of Duke. “Imagine if you don’t have a person who works on the Sahel region in Africa, but another school does.”

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