Selected lectures go online

Seven undergraduate lecture courses will be available online as streaming videos starting next fall, the first step in a pilot program to make select Yale classes accessible to the general public worldwide.

The initiative — dubbed the Open Educational Resources Video Lecture Project — will be funded by a $775,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for which Yale President Richard Levin serves as a director. Coordinating the program is Diana Kleiner, a professor of art history and classics and former deputy provost for the arts, while the Yale Center for Media Initiatives — the group that helped launch the new classes v2 server last year — will manage its technical implementation.

Kleiner said four courses will be recorded in the spring and three are being filmed this fall — “Introduction to Political Philosophy”, taught by Branford College Master and political science professor Steven Smith; “Fundamentals of Physics”, taught by Physics chair Ramamurti Shankar; and “Introduction to the Old Testament”, taught by religious studies professor Christine Hayes.

“It’s part of thinking more globally about the University and its reach beyond the walls of Yale by reaching out to other educators, other students — college students, high school students — and especially people in developing countries,” Kleiner said.

Hayes, who had her first class filmed Wednesday, said that despite an initial bout with stage fright, she forgot she was being filmed after about 10 minutes.

“This is really a very new idea of filming a course and having people watch it as if they are sitting in the classroom,” she said. “The potential to bring courseware to so many people in so many parts of the world where they may not have access to certain subjects, certain courses … is [an opportunity] you don’t want to turn down.”

Hayes said she may change how she structures her course because of the new initiative. For instance, she said, she might refer students to the Web to watch lectures on video and then use class for seminar discussion.

“It may change the way we teach,” she said. “That’s another opportunity to be confronted.”

Filming for Smith’s course will begin Monday, and Smith said he is willing to go along with the program for now.

“It was kind of interesting and flattering they wanted to do [my course], to put it on there as part of the Yale globalization initiative and be part of the Internet world,” he said. “It was kind of intriguing.”

But Smith said he is concerned that the initiative could devalue his course.

“It has elements of it that I’m still somewhat a little bit concerned about,” he said. “You work hard to do the lectures, and all of a sudden they’re there for anyone who wants to see them.”

According to Yale’s grant application for the program, posted on the Hewlett Foundation’s Web site, the University’s program takes inspiration from the OpenCourseWare program at MIT, which also was funded by the Hewlett Foundation and has inspired similar initiatives at Rice, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins and Tufts universities.

But while the MIT program and others freely provide syllabi, lesson plans, some readings, and assignments, the Yale initiative will also include videos of lectures, currently rare in existing online programs. If Yale’s pilot program is successful, online video offerings could expand in future years to “several dozen” courses in a range of disciplines.

While the new initiative is not aimed at Yale students, with recordings available on-demand, a student could conceivably sleep through a class and then watch it online later. But if that is the case, Smith said, then the program may not be worth it.

“To me the major area of concern was, if people can get the lectures online, then why do they need to come to the class? If that becomes a serious problem, I guess I’ll just stop teaching the class,” he said. “I don’t think listening to some lectures on a [monitor] really substitutes for going to the class.”

The new program marks the University’s second foray into online learning. In conjunction with Stanford University and the University of Oxford, Yale previously offered online courses as part of the now-defunct AllLearn program, founded in 2000 and chaired by Levin.

While the program offered 110 not-for-credit courses to more than 11,000 students from at least 70 countries during its operation, it was unprofitable despite a $12 million initial investment and finally shut down in March as a result.

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