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Faculty consider alternative to Coursera, new Committee on Teaching and Learning

Members of the faculty discussed the possibility of creating a University-specific alternative to Coursera, as well as the proposed creation of a new committee to oversee the continuation of online courses, on Monday at the December faculty meeting.

Philosophy professor Gideon Rosen noted that the University is free to explore options outside of Coursera in order to avoid conflicts of intellectual property, such as whether the material is owned by Coursera, the University or the professors teaching the courses.

In one alternative to Coursera, he said, the University can “invest considerable resources in developing [its] own proprietary platform.” He added that some members of the computer science department are interested in helping out.

“I must say that developing our own proprietary platform gives me nightmares,” University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 replied.

Eisgruber currently sits on Coursera’s board of advisers.

The new committee would be called the Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, and it would not only vet the online courses but would also be responsible for monitoring them and their procedures, Rosen explained.

The committee could also expand the work of the Faculty Committee on Grading by leading a campus-wide conversation on the most effective methods of assessment, according to documents circulated at the meeting detailing the potential committee’s duties. In October, Eisgruber charged a committee of faculty members with reassessing the University’s grading policy, which currently states that no more than 35 percent of the grades given by any department should be As.

The committee would also be responsible for supporting the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.

“One of the things that we’ve seen is an increase in the demand for services at the McGraw Center and some strain on the resources that are available there,” Eisgruber said. “McGraw has no cognate faculty committee helping to guide and support its work, and this committee would serve as valuable partners for McGraw.”

The University is not pushing to be a leader in online courses but instead is experimenting with them, Eisgruber noted. In a landscape that is rapidly changing, he said that the University wants to make sure to use technology in a way that is beneficial to the community.

Documents circulated after the meeting suggested that the committee may take on other roles, including the implementation of the recommendations reached by the ad hoc committee on socioeconomic diversity, assessing certain questions of the Committee on Discipline’s policy on academic integrity issues and reviewing the new Undergraduate Course Assistant program.

The potential committee would consist of 14 members: eight faculty members, the director of the McGraw Center, the director of the Keller Center, the associate director for the Council on Science and Technology, the Dean and Deputy Dean of the College and the associate dean of the Graduate School.

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