Starting next fall, 10 prominent universities, including Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Northwestern, will form a consortium called Semester Online, offering about 30 online courses to both their students — for whom the classes will be covered by their regular tuition — and to students elsewhere who would have to apply and be accepted and pay tuition of more than $4,000 a course.
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.
Unlike the increasingly popular massive open online courses, or MOOCs, free classes offered by universities like Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford, Semester Online classes will be small — and will offer credit.