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Council considers BU’s use of online education

Amidst national dialogue on the changing face of higher education and the role of online learning at colleges and universities, a special Boston University council announced it is necessary for BU to be at the forefront of educational developments.

The Boston University Council on Education Technology and Learning Innovation, formed by BU President Robert Brown in October, advocated integrating new technologies at BU in an email sent to the community, a mission BU students said will benefit working students.

“It [online classes] would be more convenient but would depend on the subject to the classes and what is offered,” said Mariah Yamamoto, a College of Communication sophomore. “For an English class they have you read a book and and write a paper on it. It doesn’t necessarily merit a long discussion. You can benefit from that and also still do work and understand the subjects well on your own.”

Debate on massive open online courses, or MOOCs, has been consistent in national media in recent months as educators attempt to determine the role these free, online courses will play and how to accredit them.

On Feb. 7, the American Council on Education endorsed five such courses for accreditation.

Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affiars Elizabeth Loizeaux, one of the council’s co-chairs, said while BU already has online classes for some of its programs, wider use of online courses would enhance BU’s reputation by increasing its efficiency and flexibility.

“What we have found so far is that educational technology really does offer exciting possibilities for improving the quality of education,” she said in an email. “Which of those possibilities will become reality, and how, will emerge as faculty, staff and students at BU talk together more about what they want and what excites them.”

She said online classes would allow more students to participate in internship and study abroad programs, as a student potentially could stay on-track for graduation while abroad by taking online classes.

“If they are really good courses, they would enable you to have an extremely valuable educational experience — study abroad — you couldn’t otherwise have,” she said in an email. “That is an example of the kind of flexibility we’re thinking about.”

In its email, the council also recommended BU become a leader in harnessing new educational technologies, consider the value of a residential college experience and collaborate with other universities and colleges.

The council established a blog for community members to offer insight and feedback on the possible developments, according to the email.

Loizeaux said she hopes for some of the programs to be up and running by the fall 2014 semester.

“Like course development of all kinds — which is happening all the time, every semester, as your faculty revise courses and develop new ones — this is an ongoing project,” she said. “We will be calling for proposals for a few new projects this spring.”

A number of students said they support the growth of nascent online educational opportunities.

Bradford Rogers, a School of Education junior, said while students will always have a place in classrooms, he supports having the option to take online classes.

“It wouldn’t ruin the reputation because higher education is trending towards that anyway,” he said. “Financially it makes everything cheaper. It may bring down tuition, which would be nice.”

He said online classes would clear up logistical and time management issues for students.

“Online courses would help with scheduling,” he said. “I would much rather take a three-hour class at home or online.”

Sierra Brown, a COM sophomore, said online classes would be beneficial for students attempting to take extra classes.

“I have to overload next semester and I think it might be easier if I can take an online class,” she said. “It’d be more convenient to take one [a BU class] over the summer.”

Brown said increasing online options would not damage BU’s reputation.

“It’s not like BU is ever going to be the University of Phoenix where all our classes are online so I don’t really think that it would negatively impact the school’s reputation,” she said. “It would make it easier for people to get some credits out of the way.”

She said college students spend the a great amount of time on the Internet every day, so BU’s attempt to increase its online presence is logical.

“I know that I spend a ton of time online every day and everyone I know does as well,” she said. “I think it’s definitely a smart move for the university to make itself more web-accessible.”

Brian Latimer contributed to the reporting of this article.

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