Duke retreats from for-credit online courses

jstancill@newsobserver.comApril 30, 2013 

— Duke University has backed out of a deal to offer for-credit courses through an online consortium, after faculty rejected the venture.

In an abrupt reversal, Duke abandoned an agreement with the for-profit company 2U for its Semester Online program, in which a handful of universities provide online courses for credit to undergraduates at those schools. Duke officials had signed a preliminary deal with the company last year, as did UNC-Chapel Hill.

Though it had been considered by several faculty committees, the plan hit major resistance last week at a meeting of Duke’s Arts and Sciences Council, which voted 16-14 against the 2U venture, with two abstentions.

Some complained that the idea had not been thoroughly vetted by the faculty. Others expressed concern about granting academic credit to outside students who perhaps were not up to Duke’s standards, as well as Duke students gaining credits from other institutions that aren’t as highly ranked.

“We were not sufficiently informed as a faculty, and since the curriculum for the entire university is the domain of the faculty, we needed time to understand exactly what was being proposed and to have some input,” said Wahneema Lubiano, associate professor of African & African American Studies.

Lubiano said she was uncomfortable that a for-profit company seemed to be driving the process. “We were losing control of the curriculum, and we were not convinced by the rationalizations from the university,” she said.

Others thought the idea had merit. Thomas Metzloff, a Duke law professor, said 2U’s technology offered a high-quality way to produce online courses. The platform includes online recorded lectures, live discussion groups and digital materials.

Metzloff and his colleagues had teamed up to create a contemporary constitutional law course.

“I’m interested in how do we effectively teach our students who are taking this as part of a rigorous curriculum,” he said. “I think there is a role for online courses. But a lot of the questions that were asked at the (faculty) meeting were good questions.”

Duke has been a pioneer of massive online open courses, or MOOCs, which extend free, noncredit courses to anyone who registers. It is part of the Coursera online consortium that produces free courses for the masses.

While rejecting 2U, the faculty group endorsed a resolution that supported online education generally.

In a statement, 2U’s CEO, Chip Paucek said: “The first courses offered through Semester Online begin this fall and while Duke won’t be participating, we are excited to be moving ahead with our ... great partners in this ground breaking initiative.”

Besides UNC-CH, 2U partners include Boston College, Emory University and University of Notre Dame

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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