Duke University quits elite online learning initiative

(By Jared Soares / For The Washington Post)
(By Jared Soares / For The Washington Post)

(Clarification: Classes at Semester Online are live)

Duke University just pulled out of an online learning initiative with other elite schools because some Duke professors voted against awarding credit for the classes.

The vote this week came just a short time after Amherst College in Massachusetts rejected a proposal to join an online education venture called edX, as my colleague Nick Anderson reports here. Both actions buck the fast-growing movement toward online education, suggesting that there remain concerns in the academy about how best to teach.

At Amherst, the issue was whether to join a group of schools, including MIT and Harvard and Georgetown, in creating MOOCs, or massive open online courses that anyone anywhere can take for free but not receive college credit.

The online initiative in which Duke was involved, called Semester Online, was different. Duke was part of a consortium of  schools — including Northwestern, Washington University, Boston College, Brandeis and Emory — that planned to create, with a company called 2U, live online courses that students at those schools could take for credit. They would cost money, like on-campus courses.

But as Inside Higher Education reported in this story, Duke faculty members from the Arts & Sciences Council voted 16-14 on Tuesday against the proposal because they were skeptical about the quality of the courses, as well as about how Duke officials had handled the financial arrangements with 2U.

Some professors  contrasted the school’s plan to open a campus in China this year with the push for on-line education back home. Inside Higher Education quoted Thomas Pfau, a professor of English and German, as saying:

There we are believing in a brick and mortar framework in our pedagogical mission 8,000 miles away but here where the students are actually in place, we seem to want to encourage them to take classes online – the absurdity of that was noted by a number of faculty.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · May 2, 2013