Duke University Pulls Out of Semester Online, Keeps Coursera

Duke University will no longer be a part of Semester Online, an education consortium that will offer credit for undergraduate courses online, reports Tamar Lewin of the New York Times. The withdrawal is said to be due to Duke University faculty member objections. “As late as early March, there was no generalized opposition to our [...]

Duke University will no longer be a part of Semester Online, an education consortium that will offer credit for undergraduate courses online, reports Tamar Lewin of the New York Times. The withdrawal is said to be due to Duke University faculty member objections.

“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.”

Lewin reports that Lange was in favour of the consortium, viewing it as an expansion of options, but the vote by the Arts and Sciences Council at Duke was 16 to 14 against participation with many objectors citing inadequate consultation.

Semester Online is continuing without Duke, however. They announced on Tuesday that they will be offering 11 courses this fall semester. These courses will be from Boston College, Brandeis, Emory, Northwestern, the University of North Carolina, Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.

The courses will be hosted by the education platform 2U, whose spokesman Chance Patterson dismissed concerns that none of the originally named 10 participants (from last year’s announcement) are offering Semester Online courses this fall. He said it was natural that some decided to go in a different direction or simply wait.

Semester Online courses are $4,200 each.

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

The withdrawal from Semester Online doesn’t mean that Duke is finished with online classes; they remain actively involved offering over twenty courses through Coursera. The main difference however is that Coursera courses, while free of cost to the student, don’t provide credit.

Dr. Lange expressed disappointment that Duke students would not be offered a for credit online option for their studies but recognized the concerns of faculty members that there might be negative long term consequences for the university in the form of fewer courses offered and fewer professors hired.

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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