Semester Online FAQs

What is a Semester Online course?

Semester Online (SON) courses are online, for-credit, tuition-bearing courses offered to undergraduate students through a consortium of universities and colleges in partnership with 2U. As a founding consortium member, Northwestern University will offer courses to Northwestern students, other SON consortium member students, and other students enrolled in 4-year institutions. Enrollment is selective and students must apply through 2U. All students must meet a minimum GPA requirement. Courses include regular synchronous meetings of small sections (capped at 20 students) and asynchronous materials that students review independently. All SON courses are taught on a semester schedule. For Northwestern undergraduate students, SON courses are worth one unit of credit.

What is the SON calendar of courses?

Courses are offered in three terms throughout the year: Fall semester, Spring semester, Summer semester. These terms roughly translate into Northwestern quarters as follows:

SON term 2013-2014 Dates Northwestern term equivalent
Fall semester August 26 - December 13, 2013 Fall quarter
Spring semester January 13 - May 2, 2014 Winter quarter
Summer session TBD Spring quarter

How can faculty apply to teach a SON course?

Faculty members submit a proposal for development of an online course. The online course can be based on an existing on-site course. If selected, faculty will work closely with course designers to develop online content and online assessment methods. The detailed process includes:

workflow for applying to teach a semester online course

A text version of the process depicted in the graphic above is available.

When during the academic year should a faculty member submit a SON course proposal?

This year proposals for courses for spring semester 2014 were sought during the summer.  The schedule for subsequent calls for proposals will be developed based on SON Consortium Curriculum Committee meetings.

How are SON courses selected?

As illustrated above, course proposals will go through several levels of approval:

  • Faculty member’s department chair and dean
  • Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup, which includes representatives from each of Northwestern’s schools
  • NU Office of the Provost
  • SON Consortium Curriculum Committee

Courses proposed for development for SON should be aimed at 2nd, 3rd and 4th year undergraduates. Some Intro level courses are appropriate, but the curriculum should not generally be targeted toward freshmen. Northwestern will favor two different types of courses: (a) those with a broad appeal and high demand and (b) unique, signature Northwestern courses.

The SON Consortium Curriculum committee, comprised of representatives from member institutions, will consider proposals from all consortium institutions and make the final selection of courses. The Committee will work closely with 2U in reviewing course proposals and selecting courses for SON development as well as in prioritizing and scheduling the course development process. It will aim to design a well-rounded set of courses for the SON offerings as a whole.

What role will faculty play in the development and delivery of the online course?

There are three separate roles involved in the development and delivery of the course: course developer, lead instructor and synchronous section instructor. The first time a course is offered, faculty members are expected to serve in all three roles.

  1. Course Developer: The course developer is the faculty member who designs and creates the course, works with 2U curriculum development/course design staff, and develops the asynchronous and synchronous course material.  Material is developed in conjunction with the 2U production team and will be completed before the course begins. 
  2. Lead instructor: The course developer agrees to serve as the lead instructor at least for the first two times the course is offered. The lead instructor oversees the delivery of the course and coordinates all synchronous sections for the course. This includes coordinating and advising the instructors of the synchronous sections.  As noted above, the lead instructor will ideally teach at least one of the course sections.
  3. Synchronous section leader: The section leader meets with each section (maximum 20 students) on a weekly, synchronous basis. Section leaders must be available to meet (online) during the term the course is offered.  Section leaders could run several sections per term.

What are faculty members’ responsibilities in developing a SON course?

Once a faculty member’s proposal is approved by the dean, Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup, Office of the Provost and the Consortium Curriculum Committee, the faculty member agrees to work with 2U to develop online course content and learning assessment. The faculty member also agrees to be the lead instructor for the online course for at least the first two times the course runs.  It is estimated that for an existing course faculty will need to devote a minimum of 100-150 hours over a seven-month period to develop the online course.  Developing a new course may take more time. Additionally, some travel to New York or Washington, D.C. may be involved.

Faculty members agree to help select and coach successor lead instructors if/when they do not want to continue in that role.

How does developing and teaching a SON course affect faculty members’ regular teaching load and compensation?

All faculty members interested in developing and teaching an SON course should discuss implications on their teaching load/compensation with their respective dean’s office.  This should be done in Step 2 in the SON course development process outlined above.  

Faculty members agree to assist in assessment of the online course and to revise and refresh material from time to time. 2U will assist and support these course improvements.

What are SON students’ responsibilities and obligations?

Students enrolled in SON courses (whether taught by Northwestern or other consortium members) agree to abide by standards of academic integrity and student codes of conduct put forth by the SON consortium members. Students agree to participate actively in the online learning community formed in the synchronous sections.  They will familiarize themselves with the policies and processes related to SON courses developed by consortium and/or by their own institutions.