Semester Online Reaches First BC Midterm Season
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 12:10
Entering the seventh week of its pilot program, Semester Online—an online consortium of eight universities providing for-credit classes to undergraduates—is transforming course enrollment possibilities for Boston College students.
Launched in 2013, Semester Online consists of eight partner schools—including Brandeis University, Emory University, Northwestern University, Wake Forest University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, and Washington University in St. Louis—through which students can access highly-acclaimed courses unique to each partner school that have been restructured and enhanced for online interaction.
“This is the first time an elite group of colleges have come together to offer online undergraduate courses for credit,” said Andrew Hermalyn, executive vice president and general manager of Semester Online.
“The model lends itself really nicely to two different types of students,” he said. “The first student is someone who wants to take a full semester off campus and travel, or work and get an internship to make some money and help with their student debt, or be at home and deal with a personal or family illness … to be off campus and not fall behind in pace for graduation by taking very high quality courses from great schools.
“The second type of student would be one who might remain here on campus and take classes that Boston College might not offer from other great schools,” he said.
In its debut semester, Semester Online currently offers two courses at BC—How to Rule the World with political science professor Robert Bartlett and The War That Never Ends with history professor Seth Jacobs—and eight other courses across the seven other consortium universities.
The 15-week, three-credit courses are currently priced at $1,400 per credit and are designed to serve students seeking time management alternatives and access to classes perhaps not offered at BC, but that still qualify for University credit.
Semester Online has also established a direct billing relationship with its partner schools, allowing online courses to appear on the regular tuition statement for students enrolled at any of the eight consortium universities.
Unlike other online course providers, however, each class is kept and capped at a 20-student capacity and is oriented toward a self-paced curriculum during a given semester.
These limited class sections allow students to engage the professor and each other as they would in an on-campus class. Restricted class sizes also allow for a live class component students must “attend” via webcam once a week—a feature the University administration felt positively separated Semester Online from other online education platforms.
“So for 80 minutes each week, students are in a live class with students from their section,” Hermalyn said. “Through our platform it looks like the Brady Bunch—everyone is on [a] webcam discussing the week’s material with the professor … [keeping classes small] makes for really rigorous section discussion.”
For the first time in University history, BC students are now able to enroll in classes at any of the eight consortium colleges and receive credit potentially counting toward their major or core requirements.
“So you might want to take Shakespeare and Film from Notre Dame, or Electronics from Northwestern, or Bioethics from Wake Forest—courses that could extend a student’s curriculum by giving them more options, but remain here on campus,” Hermalyn said.
Semester Online also recently announced its spring classes, expanding from 10 to 19 course offerings for the spring semester.
Prospective applicants for the spring program must meet with their academic advisor to confirm that a course’s credits will transfer, meet the required GPA level, and submit an official transcript before the application deadline on Dec. 23, or the early application date on Nov. 22.
The program is currently only available to eligible sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
Semester Online classes are also not just limited to consortium university students. “It’s important for everyone to know that students from anywhere in the world can take these courses,” Hermalyn said. “So you don’t have to be a student at one of the course-providing schools—it’s open to anyone.”
Through its development, though, Semester Online hopes its partnership with BC will continue to afford students the opportunity to more practically broaden their academic horizons.
“[Semester Online’s] focus is quality—making sure that what we are offering is very rigorous, very high quality, and the kind of experience a Boston College student would expect to be getting online—nothing less,” Hermalyn said. “The students, the faculty, and our partners have to believe that what we are doing online with these courses is just as good or better than on campus.”