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Wake Forest introduces Semester Online

By Katie Neal ('03) Office of Communications and External Relations
Students in an online class
Semester Online courses will be taught live, with small groups of students engaged by remarkable faculty members, much as they would be if they were on campus.

Imagine enjoying the personal attention and academic rigor of one of Wake Forest’s 300-level classes while studying abroad in Australia or caring for a loved one at home.

Today, this flexibility is one step closer to becoming a reality.

On Nov. 15, Wake Forest, as part of a consortium of top-tier colleges and universities, announced plans to introduce a new, innovative program that transforms the model of online education. Semester Online will be the first program of its kind to offer undergraduate students the opportunity to take rigorous, online courses for credit from 10 of the country’s top schools.

In addition to Wake Forest, the consortium currently includes Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University and Washington University in St. Louis. The consortium is partnering with 2U, formerly known as 2tor, the leader in creating online academic experiences for top universities.

As part of the consortium, Wake Forest has committed to evaluating online tools and practices that can enhance the educational experience. Exploratory conversations with Wake Forest faculty, staff and students, as well as other consortium schools, will ultimately determine the courses Wake Forest might offer through Semester Online.

“Online learning is an area of interest and focus, and Wake Forest is honored to be among such an esteemed group of colleges and universities exploring new frontiers in higher education,” said Provost Rogan Kersh. “For years, we have engaged in an ongoing campus-wide dialogue about how Wake Forest wants to use online education to effectively enhance our deeply personal educational experience. These important conversations with faculty will continue as we determine our path forward.”

Paige Emerson (’13), a senior communication major from Wellesley, Mass., believes a program like Semester Online could enhance the Wake Forest educational experience by providing greater convenience to students who are not physically on campus – particularly those studying abroad on affiliate programs.

“It would present a great opportunity for students who want to take a class that’s only offered every other semester, such as sports communication. Being able to take a class like that in your major or minor without worrying if credits will transfer from another school would be great,” said Emerson, who studied abroad in Rome last year.

“But, the most important thing in any online program offered by Wake Forest would be allowing for personal interaction because that’s why people come here and love this place,” she added.

In fact, initial Semester Online courses will feature the same faculty and curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, and they are delivered live on an interactive, online platform. Through a state-of-the-art virtual classroom, students would collaborate with peers and be guided by Wake Forest faculty, as well as professors from other schools — just as they would if they were attending classes on campus.

Semester Online is not meant as a substitute for on-campus classroom education. Instead, the program will allow students to continue taking classes towards a degree while working, traveling or managing personal commitments that, in the past, might have meant putting their studies on hold. Additionally, Semester Online will enable students to take advantage of and receive course credit for unique course offerings from other prestigious institutions, some of which they would not have had access to otherwise.

“We embrace the face-to-face, residential college model as foundational to a Wake Forest education. At the heart of our liberal arts commitment is helping our students develop the abilities to write effectively, discuss rationally, create original work, solve problems imaginatively, and learn independently — in short, to live a fulfilling, reflective life,” said Jacquelyn Fetrow, Reynolds Professor of Computational Biophysics and Dean of Wake Forest College.

“Technology can be a valuable supplement to this commitment; it is vital that we continue exploring how best to use its fruits as a tool in delivering a Wake Forest-style education,” she added.

Though many details remain to be determined, Semester Online is expected to be available to academically qualified students attending consortium schools and other top institutions across the country as soon as the fall of 2013.

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