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Northwestern, Notre Dame join online course program

Highly selective universities including Northwestern Evanstare increasingly offering online courses though typically they are open anyone registered student or not.

Highly selective universities, including Northwestern in Evanston, are increasingly offering online courses, though typically they are open to anyone, registered student or not. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times Library

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:37PM

Three of the Midwest’s top ranked private universities — Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis — announced Thursday they were launching a new program that will allow students to take online courses at 10 universities.

Courses will be taught online by professors through virtual classrooms made up of students at the member schools as well as students on other campuses.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the best institutions to be leading the experimentation with the new technology,” said Daniel Linzer, Northwestern University provost. “If we’re involved, I feel really confident we’re going to have smart faculty and great students engaging in this. We’ll accelerate the new learning process.”

Highly selective colleges and universities are increasingly offering online courses, though typically they are open to anyone, registered student or not, free and non-credit. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology teamed up to create edX, which attracted more than 370,000 students for their first MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, among other schools, offer free MOOCs through

Unlike MOOCs, however, Semester Online courses will be seminar size, about 15-20 registered students in a class. Students will register through the university hosting the course and the credit will then be transferred back to the student’s home university.

Ed Macias, Washington University in St. Louis’ provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, helped start the conversation about a year ago between the universities and 2U, a company that creates for-credit online university programs including a Master of Law (LL.M.) at Washington University’s law school.

“This is a very exciting possibility,” Macias said. “If we’re successful, we’re really forming the right kind of consortium that could allow us to have a transformative new model. I think it’s very possibly a model that will be used in the future, but I also know there will be others and we’ll learn from each other.”

Northwestern’s Linzer said the goal wasn’t to replace the traditional classroom experience.

“Classes are much less lecture-oriented and online enables that to happen more,” he said. “All the students who are in [Semester Online] are essentially in the front row of the classroom. Every student sees every other student live on the screen. My expectation is that it is going to raise the level of engagement.”

Semester Online goes online in the fall of 2013.

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