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Questions remain as for-credit online course registration looms

Northwestern will offer an Integrated Marketing Communications course on SemesterOnline in Fall 2013. The platform allows students to take courses from top universities for credit.

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Northwestern will offer an Integrated Marketing Communications course on SemesterOnline in Fall 2013. The platform allows students to take courses from top universities for credit.

Lauren Caruba, In Focus Editor

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Although Northwestern is set to launch its first for-credit online platform for students this fall, exactly how the classes will fit into the undergraduate academic experience remains to be seen.

“We don’t really know how appealing these courses will be,” said Mary Finn, Weinberg’s associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs. “It’s a big unknown who will want to take them and why they want to take them.”

NU students will soon be able to register for Semester Online, a platform NU formed with seven other universities. Of the dozen listed courses, one integrated marketing communications class will be offered through NU. Students will register for the courses through 2U, Semester Online’s virtual classroom provider.

Students must apply for the program and prove their good academic standing, Finn said. The same rules for class overload will still apply and tuition will be the same as it is for regular NU classes, she said. The courses will be considered electives, and those offered by other universities will count as transfer credits.

The 15-week pilot courses, which include subjects like history, business and political science, will operate on a semester schedule, running Aug. 26 through Dec. 9.

Ten universities were originally involved with Semester Online when NU joined the consortium in November, but that number is now down to eight. Finn said the consortium is “totally in flux” due to contracts and ongoing negotiations.

Medill Prof. Candy Lee will be teaching the IMC introductory class. Each week, her students will complete readings, individual activities and videos on their own. An hour and 10 minutes will also be devoted to face-to-face interaction through video chat.

Lee said online education can be effective if structured correctly.

“There’s an opportunity to explain items so that students can absorb them at their own pace and can replay or go ahead and find additional material so that it works well for variated styles in the classroom,” Lee said.

However, not all students are as interested in the online format.

“I’d prefer to be in the classroom setting,” Weinberg senior Gina Chang said. “I wouldn’t want to be at home watching videos all day.”

Although NU currently offers some online courses to graduate students, next year will mark the first time NU undergraduate students will be able to count these types of courses toward their degrees.

University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily on Wednesday that NU’s more cautious approach to online education will provide students with stronger curriculum.

“The ones who were the first movers made tremendous mistakes,” Schapiro said. “They threw away unbelievable amounts, millions of dollars, for nothing. I don’t think this is an area where you want to be first.”

Although Lee has worked with online courses at the graduate level, she is unsure of how the classes will play out for undergraduates.

“The faculty and the administration see this as an opportunity to learn so that future developments will be able to take advantage of what everyone learns from these initial forays,” Lee said. “There isn’t a cut-and-dried road map already planned out for the future.”

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