Duke’s Path to Online Education Unclear After 2U Vote

Earlier this year, Duke University severed its relationship with Semester Online when its faculty expressed reservations about a partnership with the online education provider. The April 25 vote by the Arts and Science Council also lead to the school turning back on its relationship with 2U, another company that, like SO, allows students to take courses online for credit.

Still, closing off these two particular avenues doesn’t mean that Duke is finished with online education. According to Emma Baccellieri riting in The Duke Chronicle, the school will continue to pursue opportunities to bring online education to its students – although how the university leaders plan to do that is still unclear.

“We’re just beginning,” said Thomas Robisheaux, chair of the Arts and Sciences Council and Fred W. Schaffer professor of history. “I see this as just the first step in a lively discussion where there are going to be many different solutions proposed, and we’re going to have to maybe try some—some may work, some may not work.”

Although the University currently does not have concrete plans concerning its future role in online courses for credit, the discussion is still vibrant, officials noted, and Duke is pushing forward with online education in other ways.

Duke signed a preliminary agreement with 2U in November 2012 before the faculty vote. If the vote had passed, Duke, along with the other 10 schools in the 2U consortium, would have offered some online courses for credit through the Semester Online platform. The three-year pilot program would have left it up to each academic department to make a choice about whether to participate.

According to Robisheaux, because participation was left entirely to each department involved, the impact of the new program would have been minimal. Still, faculty members who voted against it in April felt that more was at stake — it wasn’t just a decision about this particular arrangement, but a referendum on online education.

At the April meeting, some faculty members expressed discomfort with the idea of online classes, but, for many, issues with the proposal arose from other factors— the choice of consortium, a perceived lack of communication between administrators and faculty, a possible dilution of the quality and prestige of a Duke degree.

“For some, there was a conflation of the consortium with the platform and the platform with the company—three different things, some people conflating all three,” Robisheaux said.

The majority of the proposal’s critics were humanities professors, particularly from small departments.

The vote didn’t have an impact on Duke’s relationship with Coursera, but there have been no moves by the school to offer courses for credit through the platform.