Duke council discusses online education, Kunshan

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 10:19 PM

During the Duke Arts & Sciences Council meeting Thursday, faculty discussed online education opportunities, Duke Kunshan University, the move to online course evaluations and potential changes to Duke’s linguistics program.

In the Social Sciences Building auditorium, Lynne O'Brien, Duke’s associate vice provost for digital and online education initiatives, said there are 10 new massive, open online courses, or MOOCs, under development for Duke this year, in addition to repeat courses from last year, where anyone can register and there’s no tuition or resulting degree.

The courses range from “9/11 and its Aftermath” to “The Brain and Space.”

O’Brien added that a university call for proposals will be announced this month for online projects looking for fast development in spring of 2014.

During the 2012-13 school year, Duke MOOCs totaled 13 course sessions, 566,000 individual students, 9.7 million video downloads/streams, 300,000 forum posts/comments and 25,000 statements of accomplishment.

The Duke Trinity College of Arts & Sciences represented 5 of those 13 MOOCs: English Comp, Intro to Astronomy, Sports and Society, Think Again, a philosophy course; and Genetics and Evolution.

The average student ranged 25 to 50 years old, already had a degree, and 75 percent of the MOOC students were from outside the U.S.

Nora Bynum, vice provost for Duke Kunshan University and China initiatives, updated the Arts & Sciences Council on Duke Kunshan University, a joint academic venture created by Duke University, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan.

Bynum said Duke is focused on phase one of the project, or the first five years of instruction on the international campus with degree-granting graduate programs and non-degree undergraduate programs.

She said the city of Kunshan is paying more than $200 million for construction, and Duke will pay about $5 million a year for the next 8 years, for startup costs and operations.

The buildings on the new campus have a completion goal of July 2014, just months before the first class of students are expected to arrive that fall. During the first semester, Bynum said, not all floors and classrooms may be complete on the campus.

“Ten months to open, I don’t really like to think about that,” Bynum said. “There’s a lot that needs to be done between now and then.”

She said Duke hasn’t received any negative feedback from partners and the Chinese government about the university’s strong stance on protecting academic freedom in a Communist nation, but people working on the project will continue to monitor the situation.

Besides offering master’s degree programs in global health and management studies, a medical physics master’s program is currently facing faculty governance, and two new programs in bioethics and environmental sciences and policy have just been brought to the table by the respective departments.

Bynum said 24 undergraduate courses also have been approved to be taught at DKU in the next three or four years. They expect to accept 100 students each for the fall and spring semesters, and no international tuition rates have been set yet.

Bynum will update the council again of DKU’s progress during the council’s Dec. 5 meeting.

The council meeting, led by Duke statistical science professor Dalene Stangl, a member of the Arts & Sciences Council executive committee, also heard a proposal from professor Edna Andrews of Slavic and Eurasian Studies about expanding the linguistics program to include secondary appointments and joint appointments for faculty.

The linguistics program currently serves about 550 students a year. The proposal, which was greeted with support by the council, will be voted on during its next meeting Nov. 14.

“Universities of various kinds tend not to look with favor upon linguistics,” said Laurie Patton, the dean of Duke Arts & Sciences. “And when budget crunches happen, linguistics in the history of the last two or three decades has been one of the top things on the chopping block. And what I love about this is in a really interesting way, by virtue of what we’re already doing, but shaping it slightly differently, (we’re) moving in the opposite direction.”

The Trinity College also will move their course evaluations online. Lee Baker, Trinity dean of academic affairs, said the college has wasted thousands of pieces of paper and envelopes during each student evaluation session.

“It was a big environmental footprint,” he said.

After asking questions, to include topics such as evaluation anonymity, evaluation length and the time period set for students to fill out the online form, the council approved the measure to move online 19 to 3.