Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses

By Taylor Walsh | Go to book overview

1
INTRODUCTION:
CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND

The term “online courseware”—used throughout this book to refer to initiatives in which traditional degree-granting institutions convert course materials, originally designed for their own undergraduates, into non-credit-bearing online versions for the general public—is perhaps best defined in relation to better-established forms of university teaching: traditional undergraduate education and credit-bearing distance education.

The traditional undergraduate experience, at the core of modern higher education, can be divided into pedagogical and residential components. The basic unit of the pedagogical component is the course, which is taught in person to enrolled students in lecture or seminar format and is supplemented by features like peer interaction, discussion sessions with teaching assistants, hands-on labs, and independent work. Students may ask questions of their professors during class or office hours, receive feedback on their performance, and earn credits; if they complete all required coursework satisfactorily, the university eventually grants them degrees. The residential component of the traditional undergraduate experience includes a leafy campus, dormitory living, a host of extracurricular activities, participation in collegiate traditions, amenities like increasingly lavish student centers and gymnasiums, and constant opportunities for peer interaction in a diverse environment.1 Of course, beyond those activities that directly contribute to the undergraduate experience, universities

1Although they may lack dormitories, commuter institutions retain other aspects of this experience through the on-campus interactions afforded their students.

-1-

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