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Presentation by Online Education Provider 2U.com 

to the Rice University Faculty 

December 6, 2012, 3:00 p.m. 

McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall  

  

Faculty Senate Speaker Carl Caldwell welcomed the assembled Rice University faculty members and administrators to the meeting. He said that the purpose of the meeting was for representatives of 2U.com to present their online education platform and for faculty members to ask them questions. Caldwell thanked the 2U representatives, whom he said had spent the morning making presentations to some of the Rice Engineering faculty.

Andrew Hermalyn, Executive Vice President and one of the founders of 2U, introduced himself and the other members of the 2U team who were present:  James Kenigsberg, Chief Technology Officer and another founder of the company; Alana Rose, Director of University Relations; and Ian Van Tuyl, Executive Vice President, Production.  Hermalyn and Rose showed a slide presentation on the history of 2U, a company which was formed over four years ago, and which has focused on graduate-level online education. He said that 2U has one university partner for each subject. For Rice University, 2U is focused on the professional master’s program in Engineering.

Hermalyn described a program that 2U launched with the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Education. He said that students of the USC 2U program have to meet the same admissions criteria as traditional students and they pay the same amount of tuition. Hermalyn said that the ranking of the USC Education School in US News and World Report has improved from 38 to 15 since 2U’s participation. He also said that in the first three graduating classes under this system, the online students have done as well or better than the on-campus students in every category.

Hermalyn said that 2U recently announced its entry into the undergraduate online education market with a platform entitled “Semester Online.” He said that the Semester Online program is a rigorous, for-credit undergraduate program that includes live, weekly, face-to-face online classes which will use the same professor and same curriculum as on-campus courses.  Hermalyn said that this program is very different from Coursera, which uses the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) mode. Semester Online is due to launch in Fall 2013.

Hermalyn said that 2U provides the funding, about $10 million for each graduate program, while the intellectual property is owned by the university. He added that the course development happens as a partnership between the faculty and 2U, with each campus (or city) having a dedicated 2U staff. Regarding admission of students, he said that while 2U recruits and packages each student’s admissions information, the university will decide whether to admit the student. Hermalyn noted that each graduate program includes a hands-on component.

Hermalyn and Rose showed slides to the faculty with the actual content pages for a course, which included a screen shot of nine students who were attending an online session at once. He said that each course has a lead professor who is responsible for all of the lectures, quizzes, etcetera, and this professor might teach one section of 20 students. Then section leaders would each teach additional students at various times of day in separate sessions. He said that the section leaders could live anywhere; they might be retired faculty members who do not wish to teach on campus, for example.

Rose then showed to the faculty the steps that a student would take, beginning with logging in to the site. She explained that each student has a home page, with his/her course information, assignments, announcements, and a calendar which the student can download to a cell phone. The student’s profile can include a video, if desired, as well as his/her favorite books, movies, television shows, and movies. Rose showed another menu on the site entitled “My Working Groups,” which can be connected to the student’s roster of classes, and is exclusive to those class members.  The student can receive notifications from the site to his/her cell phone via text messages as soon as they occur.

Rose showed a sample class, Financial Accounting, in which a professor included a photo of a lake in his introduction to the course. In addition, he used photos of Cameroon markets to describe the process of creating a business. Rose then showed a humorous video from a different professor who used it as an introduction to his course. Hermalyn said that 2U produces a great deal of original video.

One more example shown by Rose to the faculty was a video from a course on social work. She explained that instead of the students reading about a case in which a social worker helped a client, they can see the situation on the video. She said this instruction helps prepare the students for what they are likely to encounter in the real world.  However, she said that the professor may choose for his/her online presentation to be as simple as the professor in the classroom writing on a white board.

After the demonstration, a question and answer session followed:

Question:  How does 2U make money?

2U:  We share in the tuition that a student pays.

Question:  What is your cut?

2U:  I cannot share that information; there are many factors.  (Hermalyn then described scenarios with different types of partners.)

Question:  If Rice were to sign on exclusively with 2U, what effect would this have on the residential degree? Would it stop me from teaching my own class in my own way?

2U:  No, we will create new materials which will legally belong to you. If you choose to change something in your class, that’s fine. We make the platform available to your students.  It becomes an interesting story if you decide to leave Rice; that’s a question for your administration.

Question:  Rice is a small university. It takes time to develop professional master’s programs. How do we deal with professors (who sign on with 2U) losing time for their on-campus courses?

2U:  The University of North Carolina’s Business School (a 2U partner) has never suspended anything on campus. It is a substantial commitment to time and effort by the faculty member to develop a new course—a huge new demand on the professor’s time. We like to work with the faculty “off-semester,” if possible.

Question:  Do you have production designers? And do you archive student work?

2U:  Yes, we archive the work forever; a student may go back to the course material and their own work products.

Question:  I was wondering if the faculty member has access.

2U:  Yes, the faculty member has access. Regarding production designers, we work with the theory that you already have a good course in place. Our content strategists do the course planning and production with you.

Question:  If I develop a course, I may own the intellectual property, but if I move to Cornell, it looks like that all goes down the drain. I would no longer have access to the Rice platform because I am at Cornell.

2U:  The freedom of what you can share of produced content will depend upon the contract. For example, one model is Rice-owned content that we produce.

Question:  How much time is spent live online versus time in the classroom?

2U:  About 50/50; four hours of contact time (in classroom) remains four hours of synchronous/asynchronous time online.

Question:  Are the sub-instructors (section leaders) experts in the field?

2U:  Yes, but they might not be educators; the section leaders might be practitioners.

Question:  How do you recruit students?

2U:  We recruit in two ways:  the first we call retail: we have hundreds of companies that are lead-generators for students, and the school decides which to admit. Then there’s what we call wholesale: for MBA students, we can go to big markets, such as multi-national corporations whose employees could join 2U without leaving their jobs. For Engineering, we see this as a big possibility.

Question:  How do you handle grading for very large classes?

2U:  For Engineering, there would be 500 students over a five-year period. Each section would never have more than 20 students and each live session would never have more than ten.

Question:  Does the online course have the same schedule as the on-campus course?

2U:  No, the online course has four starts per year, while on-campus typically has two.

Question:  What about the maintenance of courses; video tends to age quickly.

2U:  First, we stay away from slick, of-the-moment techniques. Second, we invest a lot of money up-front. Since we launch the course four times per year, there’s an ongoing opportunity for the professor to tweak the course. However, 20-25% of the courses might need a substantial overhaul due to the professor’s or the students’ needs.

Question:  Do you have any music programs? If I were ready to do a class with you, how would I do it?

2U:  We do not have any music programs. We do not have agreements with individual faculty, but if Rice wanted it, we could consider your course.

Question:  Why would students want to enroll in Semester Online?

2U:  First, Semester Online gives students the opportunity to be off-campus for a semester for travel, or for an internship, or to make some money, yet still take courses for credit; they do not fall behind. Second, we see this as a curricular extension. For example, Hebrew is offered at Brandeis University, but not at Duke. A Duke student could take the Hebrew course through Semester Online at Brandeis and have it transfer as credit.

Question:  A class on campus at Rice might have a certain number of 2U-registered students for the professional master’s degree and some PhD students. Would you charge the PhD students for participating in that class?

2U:  The professor could teach both types of students, but he/she could also act as the administrator of the course without actually teaching the class. In one example, the PhD students might be required to do all of the online activities that the master’s students do, plus on-campus assignments.

Question:  How do we find the section leaders?

2U:  In some cases, we get them for you; we will collect CV’s (curriculum vitae) for you to review. It is your call as to whom you use. We could tap very heavily into alumni and/or guest lecturers.

Question:  Do you use graduate students as section leaders?

2U:  No, not right now; we are able to tap into the teaching pool worldwide.

Question:  Could this be a means of funding PhD students?

Provost McLendon:  Yes, especially the more advanced ones.

Question:  Among your partner schools, are the online degree programs exactly the same as what is offered on campus, or are they tweaked?

2U:  There may be tweaks, not so much in mode of delivery, but if a school has 60 courses in its catalog, we tend to reach a decision together to limit it to 20-25 courses, focusing on certain courses.

Question:  What about Carnegie Units? Do you keep track of contact time?

2U:  Yes, we keep track. It is measureable, and we are pretty conservative about it; a 20-minute video is still only 20 minutes of contact time, even if the student watches it three times. On the other hand, if a student is asked a question in an interactive session and has to think about it, engage, and answer it online, the situation becomes a little more difficult to measure.

Question:  Regarding assessment, what security is available for testing?

2U:  A variety of ways exist: unique passwords for students can be provided to them during a live session which will only work during that session; students must turn on the microphone and camera on their computer, and the professor (or whomever they choose) watch the students take the test; also, we can monitor the session after the fact, especially if a suspicious score has been achieved, etcetera.

Caldwell:  Thank you, faculty, for asking such good questions, and thank you for attending. Thank you, 2U representatives.  (The meeting was adjourned at 4:25 p.m.)