Yale students have often lamented the difficulty of choosing 36 courses from the extensive offerings in the Blue Book. Now Yale alumni have a chance to sample a few more — online.
The Alliance for Lifelong Learning — a program offering online courses to alumni, their families and other supporters of Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Oxford — started the pilot round of 10 classes this October and November.
Yale President Richard Levin is chairman of the project and is responsible for facilitating coordination between all the participating universities and the program’s chief executive, Herb Allison.
Levin said the experimental nature of the project was the University’s main incentive for working with a consortium of universities instead of attempting to offer only Yale courses.
“We didn’t think we would have enough faculty interest at the start,” Levin said. “We felt the need to do a lot of experimentation, and, by having a large number of courses, we could all learn in common.”
At the end of September, the Association of Yale Alumni sent out the first public notice about the courses to previously interested parties and some Yale volunteers, said Stephen Victor, the AYA associate director for education and communication.
AYA Executive Director Jeff Brenzel said in an e-mail that initial feedback was encouraging.
“We e-mailed a limited number of alumni and received a very positive response, with almost 20 percent of the alumni we contacted signing up for one of the programs,” Brenzel said.
Still, Levin is quick to point out that while he thinks a market for the courses exists, the University only advertised to alumni who had already demonstrated interest.
“It is still a little early to know how much response there will be down the road,” Levin said.
Currently nine of the 10 courses are full. Victor estimated that 30 to 40 students could enroll per section.
Fees have been waived for the courses and course materials in this fall’s pilot, but administrators are still deliberating over the eventual cost.
“We do not know at this time what pricing structure the programs will support,” Brenzel said.
Victor estimated the eventual cost will be around $200.
Yale professors designed three of the courses. Deputy Provost for the Arts Diana Kleiner compiled her course, “eClaudia: Women in Ancient Rome,” specifically for the alliance. The AYA Web site has offered courses designed by Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey and English professor emeritus Marie Borroff for the past two years.
Borroff said she has seen no occupational pattern among her students but rather a shared love for learning.
“It is a matter of people who remain intellectually alive in the years after they leave Yale,” Borroff said. “Intellectual curiosity seems to be the common denominator of people who take the course.”
Victor said online instructors moderate discussions and that such interplay over the Internet is the core of the courses.
“Our belief is that because people are taking these courses from all over the world and are busy with their lives, a threaded discussion is the best way to be involved,” Victor said.
The other universities offer courses that vary from introductions to computers and immunology to classes on World War II.
Levin said the likelihood of Yale courses ever being offered online for credit seems unlikely.
“My current thinking is that this is much more suitable as a supplement for what you can do with live, face-to-face contact, rather than a substitute for it,” Levin said. “We think the model of residential education is likely to be around for a long time, and this seems like a useful tool to reach out to a geographically dispersed audience.”