Dartmouth Weighs Possible Online Education Paths

Stephanie Mc Feeters of Dartmouth University has compiled a lengthy treatment of the ways technology and the internet have made a difference in higher education. So revolutionary are these changes that almost every school is now considering how best to apply new tools to expand academic opportunities as they are pressured by businesses and families to keep up with the competition.

Dartmouth finds itself in those circumstances now, writes Mc Feeters in The Dartmouth, as administrators and faculty are weighing the costs and benefits of a number of different approaches to online education. Joshua Kim, who is the director of learning and technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program, is a proponent of the for-profit massive online open course platform Coursera co-founded by former Stanford University professor Daphne Koller.

Kim thinks that Dartmouth can benefit from embracing an online future, and an alumnus on Coursera’s board agrees:

Advances in information technology could help Dartmouth reach a global audience, increase faculty and student engagement, provide feedback about student learning methods and introduce new modes of collaboration, according to College President-elect Philip Hanlon ’77, who sits on Coursera’s advisory board.

When considering how to implement new online technologies, administrators must reflect on the College’s institutional goals, which include providing an intimate education experience, Kim said.

But not everyone is as convinced as Kim. Many faculty members, especially from the Liberal Arts programs, feel that the university needs to take its time and make the right decision when it comes to introducing online courses to curricula. Picking a provider could be tricky, Mc Feeters explains, as the partnership must be an authentic reflection of the Dartmouth academic ethos.

That isn’t to say that Dartmouth shies away from tech – quite the contrary. According to Roger Ulrich, a member of Provost’s newly formed committee that’s tasked with examining online education opportunities for the school, Dartmouth is a leading high-tech environment. At the moment, however, the technology is chiefly used to enhance the classroom learning, not to supplant it.

The size of classes at Dartmouth is unique and allows students to build strong relationships with faculty, an advantage that many students who study elsewhere do not receive, Kim said. Advances in online technology could render those traditional lecture classes obsolete. But while technological advances are transforming universities significantly, they are unlikely to uproot the traditional higher education model completely and the intimacy of a small class is difficult to recreate in an online environment, Koller said.