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Ten Prominent Universities Band Together to Expand Virtual Education

Perhaps in response to the rise of MOOCs, or massively open online courses, 10 universities have banded together to form an alternate way of taking college courses online called Semester Online. The collaboration represents the growing use of large partnerships, in both higher education and K-12, to expand the availability of virtual courses.

Like MOOCS, the classes are taken online, but that's about where the similarities end. Unlike the large enrollments that MOOCs see, Semester Online provides a much smaller environment, with about 100-300 people in each course. That group is then broken down into even smaller groups of about 15-20 people, with a section leader for each group that will lead students in live discussions through online tools provided by a social platform 2U. And also unlike MOOCs, students taking the courses online will receive college credit for successful completion of the course, but they will also be responsible for paying for the course, which averages around the same amount as in-class tuition, according to the Semester Online website.

The ten universities participating in the consortium are Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, and Washington University in St. Louis. There are plans to add more colleges and universities to the partnership.

The classes given through Semester Online seem to target students who may be traveling or working and unable to maintain a regular schedule of attending classes. The partnership also allows students to take classes at a different university that their own university may not offer, but the classes are not limited to students in the 10 participating universities. Any student can apply to participate. Semester Online is not a degree-granting institution, and students cannot receive a full degree through the program. Applications will be accepted starting next year for fall semester 2013.

Delivering classes online is certainly making a big impact on how students are learning, and I'm sure we will continue to see different models of online learning emerging in higher education, which has typically embraced virtual instructional models quicker than K-12. Yet while MOOCs have made a big splash in education, garnering praise for the innovative new model, they have also faced much criticism by skeptics who point to their high attrition rates and lecture-based, depersonalized instruction as weaknesses. Semester Online seems to address some of those criticisms in its model. Interestingly, Duke hUniversity does offer some MOOCs in addition to its participation in Semester Online.

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