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Colleges Stampeding to Online Ed

The educational apocalypse is upon us: Duke and UNC are joining forces. Continuing the stampede toward online education, they are joining eight other schools in offering their students the for-credit program “Semester Online.” Students outside the universities can take part, too, although they will need to apply and pay tuition fees for each class.

Semester Online differs from Coursera in that classes will be small and will offer the real-time interaction with students and professors that remains the greatest advantage of traditional classroom learning. The New York Times has more:

Semester Online will be operated through the educational platform 2U, formerly known as 2tor, and will simulate many aspects of a classroom: Students will be able to raise their hands virtually, break into smaller discussion groups and arrange and hold online study sessions.

The virtual classroom is a cross between a Google+ hangout and the opening sequence of “The Brady Bunch,” where each student has his or her own square, the equivalent of a classroom chair. However, with Semester Online courses, there is no sneaking in late and unnoticed, and there is no back row.

News like this is why we are hopeful about America’s future. In many ways colleges and universities are among the most staid and conservative institutions in America, deeply committed to the obsolescent blue model and clinging to the ideas and institutions of what can be called the Boomer Progressive Synthesis. University faculties gave overwhelmingly to the Obama campaign, and few groups in the country are more politically supportive of old-fashioned liberalism than academia. Yet even these citadels of the status quo are moving rapidly to embrace a disruptive new technology and American universities are racing in a direction that will transform the way they work.

Americans, even university administrators past a certain point, are pragmatists. In the end, we will get to the future faster than other countries. The forces of resistance are weaker here.

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