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First Duke online course launches Monday

Provost Peter Lange speaks about Duke's online education potential at the first Academic Council meeting of the year Thursday.
Provost Peter Lange speaks about Duke's online education potential at the first Academic Council meeting of the year Thursday.

Duke will officially offer its first online course Monday.

The Academic Council, led by Chair Susan Lozier, professor of physical oceanography, discussed the University’s growing involvement in online learning platforms at the council’s first meeting of the year Thursday. Duke’s first online course—hosted by Coursera, a California-based online education company—is set to launch Sept. 24, with a course titled Bioelectricity: a Quantitative Approach. The course will be taught by Roger Barr, Anderson-Rupp professor of biomedical engineering. Ten Duke courses are currently listed on the site, scheduled to be launched throughout the course of the academic year.

“[The initiative is an] adventure in space—a rocket without a delivery platform,” Lozier said.

Although the program has enthusiastic faculty support, the future of online education is unpredictable, she added.

The Coursera partnership, annouced in July, has developed rapidly, Provost Peter Lange noted. Duke is one of 33 universities offering courses, which span multiple departments. Professors have been working with the Center for Instructional Technology and the Office of Information Technology to design course activities.

Lange outlined four distinct functions of the initiative of online education. These include the opportunity to accelerate innovation in teaching, enhance impersonal learning, develop a substitute for the in-person experience and increase access to higher education.

“This is a very, very dynamic era,” Lange said.

Lange mentioned that the ultimate benefit of the Coursera initiative is still unknown. There are more than 230,000 students enrolled in Duke courses, which do not offer formal credit or a degree. Lange noted that students’ work ethic cannot be monitored. The University is currently not profiting from the endeavor, so the current program offers few tangible rewards.

Lange noted that the courses last for different periods of time are presented differently, because Coursera does not provide rigid guidelines for their format. “This [flexible structure] will come back to challenge us on our campus,” Lange said.

In other business:

The Academic Council presented the annual University Scholar-Teacher award to Helen Ladd, Edgar T. Thompson distinguished professor of public policy. Ladd was recognized as both a research scholar and a heavily involved educator. President Richard Brodhead said Ladd was an outstanding faculty member with an innovative teaching style.


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