Last updated: 30.10.12

Stanford's Faculty Senate discuss online education

The Faculty Senate at Stanford University discussed the benefits and challenges of online learning at a conference on Thursday (October 25th).

Since the institution launched its own platforms for digital education over a month ago - which offered 16 virtual classes for the new academic year - more professors have expressed an eagerness for computer-assisted developments.

At the meeting, John Mitchell, newly-appointed vice-provost for online learning, stated the introduction of virtual courses at Stanford was the natural follow-up to the Senate's consultation on the subject in April, but the university should prioritise on-campus students as its digital offerings grow in popularity.

In a subsequent question-and-answer session, provost John Etchemendy said there has been a great deal of enthusiasm and panic regarding the university's position on online education.

He added: "There are people at both extremes. And they're both wrong. The right response is somewhere in between. We need to figure out what to do with this technology, not ignore it."

A number of executives at the university suggested blended learning - a mixture of video material and interactive classroom sessions - would not deprive pupils and professors of the benefits of face-to-face instruction.

On the contrary, Mr Mitchell stated the technology used in online education complements the services on offer for on-campus students and creates an overlap between the two platforms.

He was quoted by the Stanford Daily as observing: "We can develop material that is multi-purpose and use it [in] various ways. We should take this as an opportunity to invest … and take advantage of opportunities."

The vice-provost also delivered a presentation on the seed grants his organisation will be awarding to ventures in online learning on a quarterly basis, funding between four and eight applications.

Earlier this year, 20 donations of this kind were announced, which were offered to the Schools of Humanities and Sciences, Engineering, Education and Medicine and paid for the technical assistance required for the compilation of digital learning videos and software platform processing.