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FEATURE
Click Here for a Columbia Education?
Some courses are going online

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olumbia.edu hosts 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?

"I'm 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.

And 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.

The 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 classroom.

This cannot be achieved via modem.

Even 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.

The 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 company.

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.

The 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 says.

He 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.

Cole 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.

"We 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.

"I 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."

He 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.

The initiatives that are under way are tightly monitored.

"We 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 the University."

Related Stories
 

Columbia Goes Digital
• Click Here for a Columbia Education?
Fathom: A Knowledge Portal
An EPIC Effort
Digital Knowledge Ventures
Intellectual Property Policy

Where to Click

 

 
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