At today’s Yale College faculty meeting, professors and administrators will discuss the future of online education at Yale.
While we appreciate the effort to expand the University’s online education efforts, we worry that the format of the proposed classes could undermine the values we strive to uphold in our education.
In a report to the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Committee on Online Education recommended offering online courses for credit, following the example of Yale’s 20-person online summer courses. The proposed classes would include prerecorded lectures, opportunities for non-Yale students to receive transfer credit and videochat-based sections and seminars.
We believe, however, that the University cannot recreate the seminar experience in an online platform.
Seminars, in their current form, enable us to examine texts and concepts in a community-based setting. They foster conversation and critical thought — the kind that happens around a table in WLH and continues into the Berkeley dining hall. They provide opportunities for friendship across class years, colleges and academic disciplines. At their best, they offer the personal interaction that should be the hallmark of a Yale education.
But in Yale’s proposed online courses, sections will occur in a virtual video chat room, and students will communicate with the class and amongst themselves through an online messenger and audiovisual technology.
We believe the proposed format is an insufficient substitute for in-person interaction. It is not the best our Yale education has to offer, and, as we begin our online expansion, it is not the Yale education we should present to the world.
A more effective online strategy might instead focus on Yale’s most popular lecture courses — many of which do not offer or emphasize section, and some of which are currently featured on Open Yale Courses — to offer credit opportunities to Yalies and non-Yalies alike.
Since most large lectures provide little opportunity for personal connections, online lectures would replicate their New Haven counterparts more accurately than online seminars. A “Game Theory” lecture would appear the same whether viewed from a seat in SSS 114 or a home in New Delhi; a Shakespeare seminar would be dramatically different.
To create an authentic Yale experience online, we must modify and adapt exceptional courses to suit the needs of a virtual platform and audience. Successful online courses demand new styles of teaching, new approaches to curricula and new methods of assessment. While large lectures may be suited to an online format, we remain concerned that our most intimate classroom experiences cannot — and should not — transfer online.