A Better St. Louis. Powered by Journalism.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Email

Wash U. joins new consortium offering online classes

In Education

10:39 am on Thu, 11.15.12

Updated at 12:50 pm on Thu, 11.15.12

Washington University is joining nine other campuses in a new consortium that will offer online courses to students enrolled in their schools and others in what the group calls “a new, innovative program that transforms the model of online education.”

The effort, called Semester Online, will offer courses for credit that will include large lecture classes and smaller sections that feature interactive technology that will let students interact with their professors and with each other. Washington U. Provost Edward Macias, who helped organize the group, said it is designed to provide education that is just as effective as courses taught in the traditional way, in person.

“We wanted to extend the reach of Washington University’s academic offerings,” he told the Beacon, “but also provide online learning that is as rich and robust as the classroom experience.”

Other schools joining Semester Online are Brandeis, Duke, Emory, Northwestern, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, Rochester, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. The consortium will be fully operational next fall, though some schools will offer courses before then, including one toward a master's degree in law at Washington U. The courses will be offered through technology developed by a company known as 2U, formerly known as 2tor, whose slogan is “Great Universities Unleashed.”

The rapid growth of so-called MOOCs – massive open online courses – has prompted a corresponding rush of research. This week, the American Council on Education announced an effort to examine the academic potential of such courses, supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Founation.

While online courses have been offered by university consortiums in the past, such as Coursera and edX, Macias said Semester Online will be different because it will enroll students who currently are students at either the universities in the new group or at other universities, where they are already paying tuition.

When they complete their online courses, he said, the credit they earn will transfer to their home institution, moving them closer to the degree that they have been working for.

That plan solves two questions that have been raised about other online course programs – how will they be paid for, and what will the students who are involved in them get in return.

Students who are already enrolled in the universities in the consortium will have their courses covered by tuition. For others, the charge will be about $1,400 for each credit hour.

“We think we have a really transformative new model,” Macias said. “It’s online education, for credit, from top-notch schools that will have the rigor and robustness of our in-class courses. We see this as a really winning possibility for our students and for many other students as well.”

Edward Macias
Edward Macias

How rapidly it will expand, he said, is difficult to tell.

“We’re trying to take this one step at a time,” Macias said. “We want to be careful, to make sure it’s top quality. We’ll try some things, then expand them and expand them. There are plenty of people who would like to be able to take these courses.”

The consortium also offers opportunity to professors who will be able to teach students beyond those enrolled at their university.

Macias said talks with 2U and with provosts at Northwestern, Duke and Emory helped get Semester Online started.

One of the keys to the new system, he said, is breaking down the large enrollment into smaller sections of 15-20 students each that will be fully interactive, with professors and students able to talk to each other. Students can use the technology for study groups as well, he said, no matter where they are.

“We think we have many of the things that are so important in our in-classroom courses,” Macias said, “with students being able to learn from each other and from faculty members with whom they have a close connection.”

Asked about the question of how professors will know whether students have actually performed the work that they turn in for the online courses, Macias said that in exam situations, professors will actually be able to see the students. For papers, he said, advanced software will help make sure that the work that students turn in is actually their own.

“A lot of work has been done to try to identify authentic papers in classroom situations,” he said. “Faculty have been shown how to authenticate.”

The name for the new venture evokes what Macias said it resembles – the chance for students to take advantage of the same kinds of new courses and programs that they could do if they spent a semester abroad, living in a totally different part of the world. If they want to take time off to work in a political campaign, say, or have an internship, they could still enroll in online classes and continue their education.

Macias said he is no stranger to the challenges and opportunities of innovative learning techniques. He said that under the university’s former chancellor, William Danforth, he was involved in trying to determine what higher education would be like in the 21st century – a time when the online capabilities available today could only be imagined.

Given that progress, Macias added, it’s hard to say where the explosion of online education will lead in the coming years. He is leaving his job as provost at the end of the current academic year to devote his time to figuring out new ways to using emerging technology.

“During that time,” he said of his previous work at trying to divine the future, “the Soviet Union fell and dramatically changed the world. Nobody in the room had a clue that would happen. Nobody predicted it. I’m not a good reader of the future. If you had asked me two years ago where online education was going, I would have given you a radically different answer. The online world was different. The quality was different. The actors were different.

“Things are changing amazingly rapidly. I can’t predict what will be happening two years form now. But I do think this is an enhancement that we’re working on. The university will find a way to have a very robust campus residential experience, but it will find other ways to enhance that learning. I don’t exactly know what the university will look like. But I do see this hybrid being pretty lively over the next decade. Do I think all these buildings will wither away? No. But this will change the nature of education.”

No Comments

Join The Beacon

When you register with the Beacon, you can save your searches as news alerts, rsvp for events, manage your donations and receive news and updates from the Beacon team.

Register Now

Already a Member

Getting around the new site

Take a look at our tutorials to help you get the hang of the new site.

Most Discussed Articles By Beacon Members

Conference of American nuns will mull response to Vatican charges

In Nation

7:55 am on Fri, 08.03.12

Meeting in St. Louis next week, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will have its first opportunity as an assembled group to consider what to do after the Vatican issued a mandate for change this spring. It calls on the conference to reorganize and more strictly observe church teachings.

The 'free' Zoo

In Commentary

7:51 am on Tue, 05.22.12

When a family of four goes to the St. Louis Zoo, they can be forgiven for not knowing it will cost them $60, $72 if they park. If they can't pay, the alternative is to tell the kids they can't do what kids do at the zoo.

Featured Articles

House sends Boeing incentive bill to Nixon

In Economy

12:55 pm on Fri, 12.06.13

The Missouri House easily passed legislation aimed at attracting production of the 777x, a move that wraps up a legislative special session that saw little suspense and few surprises. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who has strongly supported the legislation.

Gandhi inspired Mandela on South Africa's 'Long Road to Freedom'

In World

10:10 am on Fri, 12.06.13

Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, was a towering moral figure of the 20th century -- along with Mahatma Gandhi. It was no coincidence that Gandhi and Mandela, whose paths never crossed directly, both embarked on their campaigns against discrimination in South Africa. It was when Mandela won election as South Africa’s first black president that Gandhi's influence became apparent.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Encore: Dead before death

In Performing Arts

12:58 am on Fri, 12.06.13

For years , the author was certain he would never come to appreciate The Grateful Dead, let alone be a Deadhead. But little by little, he's come around. He talks about his conversion and relates a real evolution: by a musician who went on to play with the Schwag, a Dead cover band.

Featured Articles

Schlichter honored with St. Louis Award

In Region

4:57 pm on Tue, 12.03.13

The attorney has founded Arch Grants, which brings together nonprofit philanthropy and commercially viable opportunitiesto fund new business startups, and Mentor St. Louis, which finds adult mentors for elementary students in the St. Louis Public School System. He was the driving force behind the state's historic tax credit program.

BioGenerator sets open house to celebrate new digs for entrepreneurs-in-residence

In InnovationSTL

12:29 pm on Tue, 11.12.13

BioSTL's BioGenerator organization is on the move as its entrepreneurs-in-residence find a new home in 4,300 square feet of office and conference space in an old automobile factory. The blossoming program, which helps BioGenerator's portfolio companies to get off the ground, continues to pay dividends within the growing biotech community.

Ambassadors aim to soften rough landing for St. Louis immigrants

In InnovationSTL

6:34 am on Fri, 11.08.13

The St. Louis Mosaic Project is set to hold an orientation for its new ambassadors -- dozens of foreign and native-born volunteers who aim to help make the community a more welcoming place for those from other nations. Participants will be expected to do everything from visiting local restaurants serving international cuisine to having dinner with an immigrant to the area.

Recent Articles

More Articles

Innovation and entrepreneurial activity are on the rise in St. Louis, especially in bioscience, technology and alternative energy. The Beacon's InnovationSTL section focuses on the people who are part of this wave, what they're doing and how this is shaping our future. To many St. Louisans, this wave is not yet visible. InnovationSTL aims to change that. We welcome you to share your knowledge, learn more about this vibrant trend and discuss its impact.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Featured Articles

Featured Events:

Upcoming Events

View Full Calendar

More About The Beacon Home