Online courses for credit expand

After a successful pilot program last summer, the University will expand the number of online courses offered for credit through Yale Summer Session this year.

The University will offer nine Yale College courses online for credit — up from two last year — that will be open to both Yale students and those from beyond the Yale community at a cost of $3,150 each, the same as other Summer Session courses held on campus. Dean of Yale Summer Session William Whobrey said the online courses, which are still in an experimental phase, “mimic the effects of a seminar” by allowing students and professors to interact via video chat and instant messaging.

“This is an opportunity for Yale students to get credit towards their degrees even if they’re not in New Haven,” Whobrey said. “I’m sure there are students and faculty who prefer to be in the class and to see each other face-to-face, but this isn’t meant to replace that.”

The nine online classes, which will be capped at 25 students each, represent eight different departments, including English, Music, Psychology and Economics. Lucas Swineford, director of digital media and dissemination at the Yale Broadcast & Media Center, which helped design the interface for the courses, said the online courses afford students the ability to take classes while pursuing other activities outside of New Haven, such as internships, research projects or community service.

Whobrey said the expansion was partly motivated by similar projects at other universities: Over the past several years, Harvard, Stanford and Columbia all began offering online courses for credit. The total number of online courses for credit will likely not expand beyond 20 per summer, Whobrey said, adding that such courses could potentially become available to Yale students during the academic year.

Three of the nine courses have versions of the classes available on Open Yale Courses — which currently has lectures for 42 courses online for free — so students will watch the prerecorded lectures before attending the online discussion sessions, Swineford said, and four other online courses this summer will incorporate online lectures posted exclusively for the summer program.

Four professors who will teach online courses this summer said they are excited about the program’s “interactive” nature. Even though they will not meet those students in person, they added that the small classes will likely provide better settings than large lecture halls to form personal relationships with students.

Music professor Craig Wright, who taught “Brains of Genius: Mozart and Friends” online in last year’s pilot program, said he received “uniformly positive reviews” from students. Wright, who will offer the online class “Listening to Classical Music” this summer, said he found that meeting only through online forums did not detract from the educational experience.

Political Science professor Ellen Lust, who will teach her “Introduction to Middle East Politics” course online for a second time this summer, said she her online course was more “diverse” than her typical Summer Session course in New Haven, with students participating from around the world. She added that the online discussion threads allowed her to keep a “track record” of her students’ progress, which does not exist in in-class discussion groups.

“I am convinced that students can get as much out of online courses as they can from those in the classroom,” Lust said. “In fact, if there is one message to be sent to students considering an online course, it is that the course is not ‘easy.’ Online courses require as much, if not more, time and dedication as in-class courses do.”

For Laurie Santos, a psychology professor who will be offering her “Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature” course online this summer, the new medium will be “a unique way to teach [a] big lecture course in a format that allows [her] to get to know [her] students a bit more personally.”

Frequent small discussions between students and professors provided in the online format will likely enhance the learning experience, echoed Kristina Olson, a psychology professor who is offering an “Introduction to Psychology” course this summer. Still, she said the online forum limits the scope of possible demonstrations, which she said she often uses for students in her normal lectures.

The online Summer Session options uses the Pearson eCollege Learning Management System, a standard platform used for online education.

Comments