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University plans to expand online course program for alumni

As the Internet becomes an increasingly crucial medium for disseminating information, the University has begun to offer special online courses to alumni, according to associate provost Georgia Nugent '73.

The University has sponsored three Web-based courses thus far, and yesterday announced a new mini-course pertaining to Nelson Mandela, associate director of the Alumni Council Doug Blair '71 said.

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The effort has been driven by a desire to add an educational dimension to the alumni's relationship with the University. "The courses are intended primarily for enrichment, no credit attached, and no requirements," Blair said, adding that the courses are self-paced and complemented by online discussion groups.

"Alumni reaction has been extremely positive," Blair said. "One of the best indicators is that there were almost 1,000 people signed up in the first course — Walks in Rome."

Administrators began to consider whether Princeton should offer online courses about a year ago when Columbia University and Cornell University announced their commitment to wholly Web-based courses, Nugent said.

At about the same time, Nugent conducted a faculty survey and found that 95 percent of faculty communicate with students through e-mail and 67 percent of faculty use some type of technological teaching aid. She said she realized that "whether instructional technology will be used is no longer a question."

Course quality

The University's primary goal now is to develop online courses that are of Princeton's traditional quality, Nugent said. "I think what we're seeing in online education is a whole lot of activity and not a lot of quality," she said.

The report recently released by the Wythes committee calls for distance learning to be developed "as expeditiously as possible." The report continues, "it is the committee's expectation that a significant program will be in place by September of 2000."

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While the administration hopes enrollment in online courses will reinforce the relationship between alumni and the University, administrators said they are wary of publicly disseminating materials that are the intellectual property of professors.

"We want to be sure that we establish clear copyright of these materials," Blair said.

Blair said a nominal fee eventually may be necessary to cover the operating costs for online courses. However, University administrators do not see online courses as a new revenue stream, according to Nugent. "We don't see this as an opportunity to make profit," she said.

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