Brandeis joins consortium to offer online learning

Agreement aimed at broadening course offerings and flexibility

Brandeis and nine other leading universities are planning to launch an innovative online education program next fall.

The new program, Semester Online, will be the first to offer undergraduate students rigorous, online courses for credit from a consortium of universities. The program is delivered through a virtual classroom environment and interactive platform developed by 2U, a private online education company based in Landover, Maryland.

"This is an exciting step forward, not just for Brandeis but for higher education generally,” Provost Steve A.N. Goldstein ’78 said in announcing the plan. “This consortium will expand opportunities for students everywhere and will help us all gain experience and understanding of the broad potential of distance learning. We're looking forward to this exploration of the online world."

Joining Brandeis as founding members of the consortium are Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Washington University in St. Louis. The consortium anticipates adding a small number of institutions prior to the launch.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, Semester Online will be available to academically qualified students attending consortium schools and other schools across the country. Information about Semester Online courses and the application process will be available in early 2013.

[Below, a film clip of an online graduate course from the University of North Carolina]

Initial Semester Online courses will feature primarily the same faculty and curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, with additional courses designed for the online format to be included in the future. Through a state-of-the-art virtual classroom, students will participate in discussions and exercises, attend lectures and collaborate with peers while guided by renowned professors—as close to the on-campus class experience as is currently possible online.

Semester Online will offer students unprecedented opportunities for curricular enhancement, according to the organizers. They will have the chance to take advantage of unique course offerings from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, courses they would not otherwise have access to. They will be able to work, travel, participate in off-campus research programs or manage personal commitments that in the past would have meant putting their studies on hold. 

Semester Online also provides new opportunities to consortium faculty members. Participating professors will have the chance to take part in a first-class online learning experience and engage with talented students across the country.

 “There isn’t any question that online education is an important and impactful extension of our academic offering,” said Ed Macias, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs of Washington University, who was the catalyst for organizing the consortium. “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.”

Duke Provost Peter Lange said that “this is another way to test, learn from and benefit from the opportunities and challenges the online and digital worlds provide for us. We’re doing this to offer our students even better options to enrich their education.”

Earl Lewis, the provost of Emory, said that as a result of the new program “no matter where they are in the world, students will have the opportunity to engage in internships and work experiences, travel or manage personal commitments while continuing their collegiate academic journey.”

The consortium is partnering with 2U, formerly known as 2tor, a leader in creating online academic experiences universities. Semester Online will feature many of the same elements that 2U offers its master’s degree program partners, including live class sessions that connect students and professors; compelling, richly produced, self-paced course materials; and a strong social network that allows students to connect and build relationships with peers 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. "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.”

"All of us will be working with our respective faculty, staff and students to operationalize the program and develop guidelines for our students prior to launch next fall," said Macias. "There are further issues to resolve, however it is tremendously exciting that this group of leading institutions has come together and is committed to moving forward the concept of Semester Online."

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