Semester Online, an online-education consortium comprised of several universities including Emory, will disband following this year’s summer semester after the completion of its pilot year, according to an April 14 email from Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Joanne Brzinski.
Semester Online is a partnership between online education provider 2U and several top-tier schools such as Emory, Northwestern University, Boston College, University of Notre Dame and many other U.S. and international institutions.
Low program-wide enrollment, the loss of Duke University and Vanderbilt University before last fall’s launch and 2U’s desire to develop a fully online undergraduate degree program were cited as reasons for the dissolution of the consortium, according to an April 3 Inside Higher Ed article.
Duke University dropped from the consortium after its Arts and Sciences Council voted to block its membership due to the council not yet voting on how to award credit for online courses, according to an April 25, 2013 article in the Duke Chronicle.
The original consortium contained 10 universities and was established as a platform for offering online credit-bearing courses to undergraduate students who were not necessarily enrolled at the offering institutions, according to a Nov. 16, 2012 Inside Higher Ed article.
“We want to be part of the experiment, and we feel that the time is right,” J. Lynn Zimmerman, then-senior vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education at Emory, said in the 2012 article.
In Brzinski’s email, she acknowledged the Semester Online “experiment” contained many challenges, yet wrote that the pilot year of the program offered much success.
“We learned that it is possible to offer extremely rewarding educational experiences in a digital environment,” Brzinski wrote. “Our Semester Online courses, taught by [Religion professor] Gary Laderman, [English professor] Bill Gruber and [Psychology professor] Darryl Neill, have presented the very best of Emory.”
Brzinski noted many students’ enthusiasm for Semester Online’s structure as another curricular option, writing that two Emory seniors who are away from campus this semester will be graduating this year due in part to Semester Online.
Steve Savage, communications specialist for the Office for Undergraduate Education, wrote in an email to the Wheel that Emory is in negotiations with 2U to continue the Emory courses for the fall using the Semester Online platform for those students who have already applied to the courses.
Several Emory students currently enrolled in Semester Online courses were surprised that the program disbanded because they have enjoyed their online experiences leading to this point.
College junior Olivia Payton, enrolled in “Leading and Managing” from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, said she’s sad to see the program go and that she would have recommended the program to a friend.
“I’m currently taking [my course] because it seemed very interesting, and I wanted to see if I was responsible enough to handle an online class with my busy schedule,” Payton said. “It’s fun to learn from another professor from another school and have classmates from all over the country.”
For College sophomore Hal Zeitlin, programs like Semester Online represented the future of higher education.
“While education should prepare students for a profession, I am a strong believer that our future education systems should include elements which help students search within and find greatness,” Zeitlin said. “What I liked most about the format of Semester Online was that they had strong, engaged professors teach classes that were heavily enjoyed by students at the home school.”
Savage wrote that the dissolution of the program isn’t exactly a failure but a learning experience for all involved.
“We have learned a great deal about online education and ways to meaningfully translate a residential course to an online format,” Savage wrote. “We are actively working to apply those lessons and develop our own online courses in the next year.”
The end of Semester Online does not mark the end of Emory’s foray into online education, however.
“I am extraordinarily proud to have the Emory name attached to their innovative courses,” Brzinski wrote. “We look forward to developing online or hybrid courses at Emory outside of the Semester Online project.”
– By Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler 16C is the political reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting, the statewide NPR affiliate in Georgia. He graduated from Emory with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and covered the central administration and Greek Life for the Wheel before serving as assistant news editor, Emory Life editor and the Executive Digital Editor from 2015-16.