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Semester online is a brand-new approach to online education. While many universities are turning to the power of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to lower costs while raising enrollment, Semester Online uses a completely different method. Classes are capped at approximately 20 students, using live video conferences, online chat, self-paced coursework and a collaborative online community to recreate the settings of a physical university. This is online education for the student concerned that they will be lost in a sea of faceless names in the online setting, the student concerned that online education will be sub-par compared to the physical setting, and even for students tired of being in 200 person classrooms where they have no way of forming a real connection with their professors.
What makes Semester Online so different from other online university programs is that this program is trying to provide all of the benefits of in person learning, including face to face, spontaneous discussion and even the option for the professor to place students in small groups for discussion and group work. Semester Online is an attempt to bring reputable education to those who have had to put education on hold for other commitments, allowing busy students to take courses at the rate they want.
But recreating the intimate classroom setting and traditional student teacher relationship does not come without a cost. The 11 institutions have sacrificed the ability to offer their courses at low prices by limiting their classrooms to only 20 people, and credits are $750 each for the summer session and $1,400 per credit in the spring session. That’s $2,250 per course in the summer, and $4,200 in the Spring. Looking at the high costs of this program, the goal is made abundantly clear: this is not an attempt to bring prestigious education to the masses (which, incidentally, would devalue degrees from tough to get into universities), but to bring higher cost, high quality education to the modern student, who may be working or have family commitments that would preclude them from attending institutions in person.
So which 11 institutions are involved in this program? In alphabetical order: Boston College (US), Brandeis University (US), Emory University (US), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (US), Trinity College (Ireland), the University of Melbourne (Australia), the University of Notre Dame (US), Wake Forest University (US), Washington University (US). The credits are earned at the university that offers each specific course, and can then be transferred to a students home university. Of course, students must check with their home university to ensure that credits are transferable, especially with out of country institutions. Courses include eco-sustainability, forensics, psychology, computer science, molecular genetics, among others seen in the catalog found here. Currently, there are 24 courses offered.
At this time, the limited course catalog means that Semester Online is not the answer for someone who wants to take a degree online. It is a program which is designed to let students continue in academics even when working and take courses not offered by their institution. Semester Online is exactly what it’s name bills it as: a semester, not a full degree.
It seems incredible that an institution such as Trinity College, Dublin, which was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth 1 of England would now be offering courses online. A lot changed in 400 years! Semester Online is brand new, so it remains to be seen if it can achieve its goal “to create a world-class online educational experience that is equal in quality and rigor to the on-campus experience.” While Semester Online is not helping to lower tuition costs or to make online education more available in terms of numbers, it is making education more attainable to those who are unable to attend class physically but do not want to put their education on hold. If you want to learn more about Semester Online, you can check out their official website.