Emory Co-Founds ‘Semester Online’

In collaboration with other top universities, Emory University will expand the classroom experience to include an online component.

Semester Online, a new online course education program that will offer new for-credit undergraduate courses, will allow top educators from across the country to teach these classes, in which Emory students may be able to enroll starting next fall.

In addition to Emory, the consortium members include Brandeis, Duke, Northwestern, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Washington University in St. Louis (Wash U.).

The online program will commence with pilot classes beginning this spring.

The program was announced during a Nov. 15 online press conference. Enrollment and course information will be available at that time.

The consortium of universities participating in forming the Online Semester are working with 2U, a company that has previously developed online graduate degree programs, to develop a for-credit undergraduate format.

Lynn Zimmerman, senior vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education at Emory, wrote in an email to the Wheel that the program will replace typical classroom lectures with online content formatted into small modules.

She added that the modules will include discussions involving roughly 20 students and a class professor.

The online interface of the discussion group will resemble “the Brady Bunch squares,” she noted.

According to Zimmerman, Emory had been exploring the concept of an online course program for a long time.

She added that Emory had been working with the other founding schools to establish a program that met high educational standards through an online platform.

“It seemed like the right experiment to join in, and that was decision that we made, and we’re very excited about it,” Zimmerman wrote.

Peter Lange, provost at Duke University, expressed his excitement about Duke’s participation in the Semester Online program during the online press conference.

“This is an extremely exciting way for [Duke and its peer institutions] to enhance the curricular opportunities for our students in a way that does not give up any of the rigor and quality that we expect of all of our courses,” Lange said.

However, not all students at Emory share Lange’s enthusiasm toward the addition of online courses in Emory’s curriculum.

College freshman Pat Zepeda said while he believes that although more courses will likely be offered through the program than Emory currently offers, he feels that Semester Online will hinder the true classroom experience.

Zepada said many students will take advantage of the online courses to avoid attending a physical class.

“It voids the connection you can make with an excellent professor,” Zepeda said. “It lacks the appeal you get when you meet with a professor versus simply looking at a screen.”

However, some students are excited by the introduction of the new online program.

College freshman Max Levinson explained that the prospect of taking classes with professors from other prestigious institutions such as Duke or Wash U. is enticing.

“This could potentially be very beneficial to a lot of students at Emory,” Levinson said. “It’s a great way to use the Internet in this new day and age as a new method for higher learning.”

During the online press conference, Lange noted that he expects many more institutions to join the Semester Online program in the coming weeks and months.

He emphasized the significance of the addition of online course programming at prestigious academic institutions.

“Semester Online represents a really unique collaborative effort among our institutions,” Lange said. “This is the kind of collaborative effort that we at Duke and my partners believe has to be a part of higher education.”

— By Dustin Slade