Click Here for a Columbia Education?
Some courses are going online
hundreds of thousands of pages of content, but so far it does not
mean "click here for a Columbia education."
However, with organizations from Duke University to Barnes
& Noble cashing in on the $2 billion online education industry,
what is the future for a sort of Columbia.com? Will students one
day be able to get the Columbia classroom experience without ever
visiting Morningside Heights?
not sure we'll see courses with the same form or structure as in
the classroom, but there will be Columbia courses online, developed
by faculty," says Provost Jonathan Cole '64.
it is not all that futuristic. Some courses - both mini-seminars
and semester-long ones - are being developed for lifelong learners
and sold on Fathom, a for-profit site developed by Columbia with
several education partners. The medical and business schools have
licensed courses to online educational companies, and General
Studies began offering non-credit continuing education classes
online this spring.
College, however, has no immediate plans for online offerings. Dean
Austin Quigley often has spoken about the importance of creating "a
coordinated living and learning environment" on campus and how so
much of what students learn comes from their interactions with each
other and with faculty, both inside and outside the
cannot be achieved via modem.
the online courses being developed by other parts of the University
are not meant to substitute for an on-campus experience and degree.
"Where we get into an area of ambiguity and even a problem area is
when we talk about degrees and course credits, which is why
Columbia is proceeding very cautiously," Cole says.
Business School has arranged to package courses to serve as
postgraduate training for corporations around the world. The
materials are developed by the Business School and delivered via
UNEXT.com, from which the
B-School gets royalties and a possible equity stake in the
Digital Knowledge Ventures, a unit formed by the University to
oversee the marketing of new media content, oversaw a deal between
the Institute for Human Nutrition at the medical school and Ambi,
creator of NutritionU.com,
to provide consumer education and mini-courses. "It helps extend
the name of our University and brings in some resources to help
support the development of the institute," says Todd Hardy,
executive director of DKV.
General Studies courses, such as business writing classes, are
being offered via a company called Cognitive Arts. "We provide the
course content and they bring the framework and formatting," Hardy
explains that rather than trying to upload a traditional course by
putting text and video online, the courses will be interactive
experiences developed specifically with new media in mind. "It will
be problem-based," he says. "Students will be placed in a scenario
and make decisions and will be taught as they go along." For
example, in learning how to write a business plan, a student might
role-play a small business owner and have to forge ahead in a
virtual business world.
notes that taking advantage of online opportunities is a way for
Columbia to earn money to compete with other Ivy League schools
like Harvard and Yale that have larger endowments, but stresses
that money is not the single motivating factor.
want to do it in part for the revenue, but there is a wonderful
democratizing aspect to this revolution," he says. "To be able to
bring Columbia resources to children in Ghana - who would never
come here, who couldn't afford to come here - not to give degrees,
just to give knowledge."
Potential students do have some hope of building up a Columbia
transcript from afar.
imagine there will be, in some programs, courses that will be used
toward degrees here," Cole says. "We're a ways from offering
degrees entirely online, although some [universities] do. We may
evolve into some of that."
gives the example of certain masters degrees from the Engineering
School, which already uses the Columbia Video Network to bring
classes off-site to corporations like IBM and Lucent, where
employees take simulcast video courses.
initiatives that are under way are tightly monitored.
will not give up control over the quality. We will always be the
gatekeepers of what's under our name," Cole emphasizes. "We won't
allow anyone to do anything that will undermine the reputation of