Online summer course program at Tufts continues to expand

Students work with computers in a lab in Eaton Hall on Sept. 30, 2017. (Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily Archives)

Online summer courses are an option for Tufts students looking to take classes that they might not necessarily be able to fit into their schedules during the fall or spring semesters. According to the Summer at Tufts website, the online courses are “designed to provide high-quality, flexible, and interactive courses to Tufts and visiting students.” The website also notes how the serves as a flexible format in which “students have greater freedom to interact with course content” than they would during the regular semester.

In recent years, there has been a push to expand the online programs offered at Tufts. In the 2013–2014 school year, faculty at the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering adopted a two-tier system to approve more online courses in response to their popularity. More recently, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy has decided to offer an online masters program in global business that will commence in May.

The online summer course program for undergraduate students offers a wide array of courses, including Modern Race and Racial Politics and Principles of Economics.

Joseph Auner, the dean of academic affairs for the School of Arts and Sciences, Ruth Anne Murray, the director of Open Enrollment Programs, and Karen Mulder, an executive associate dean and and executive director at Tufts University, spoke to the advantages of taking an online course over the summer.

There are multiple benefits to taking an online course over the summer at Tufts.  To begin with, summer is a wonderful time to take a course, whether to earn credits, to devote more time to a challenging course, or to explore a new area of interest.  Online learning allows a student the flexibility of both place and time. Students don’t need to travel to campus and can log into their class day or night, whichever suits their schedule best,” they explained in a joint email response to the Daily. 

Phoebe Taylor, a first-year planning on majoring in political science with a minor in computer science, sees the online course program as a way to take classes in subjects she wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Since Taylor’s schedule is filled with political science and STEM courses, the summer program allows her  to explore other areas of study, such as economics.

“I wanted to take economics because I think it is a valuable skill to have regardless of my major, and I feel it is important that I have a basic understanding [of economics],” Taylor said. “I think everyone should know how markets and the general economy works. My course load during the regular academic year is too demanding to take a difficult class like [Principles of Economics]. Having the online class over the summer would allow me to devote more time to it than I otherwise could.”

In addition, Auner, Murray and Mulder explained that the flexible schedule allows for students to do other things, like work a summer job. They also believe that taking an online course over the summer acquaints students with using Canvas, submitting papers online and sharing documents.

This format is particularly helpful for students with full- or part-time jobs or internships, as well as those with family commitments. Online courses can also help students to develop their computer skills as they learn search techniques for academic material, learn to navigate Canvas and create and share documents. Some students prefer the online class environment because they find it easier to concentrate without classroom activity, while others find that they can participate in class discussions more easily than in face-to-face class sessions,” they said.

Taylor also felt that the flexibility of the online summer course program adds to its academic value. She explained that being able to work at her own pace would allow her to feel more comfortable learning the material.

“I’ve never studied anything like economics before, so being able to really take my time and dig into the material would help a lot with my understanding of it,” Taylor said.

While the online courses are less rigidly structured than those offered during the regular semester, Auner, Murray and Mulder insisted that they maintain the same standards of quality and rigor. They explained that students and faculty are surveyed about their experience to ensure that Courses are satisfactory.

“Tufts online classes are rigorous academic experiences, developed by Tufts faculty to meet the high standards for which Tufts is known; AS&E undergraduates can count up to 15 semester-hour units worth of Tufts online courses toward graduation. In most cases, faculty have developed online courses based on the same courses they regularly teach in the classroom. Both online and in-class courses that are brand new, with the exception of special topics courses, are reviewed by the curriculum committee. In addition to the standard course evaluation process, students and faculty are also surveyed about their experience and satisfaction with all aspects of the course. Those new to this format will be surprised at how engaging and interactive online courses can be.  Students are expected to log in frequently and interact with faculty and fellow students through online interactive tools,” they explained.

The process of forming a course into a condensed, online format is multifaceted. Auner, Murray and Mulder explained that department chairs and their academic deans work with the Summer at Tufts leadership team to ensure that online material can be learned in a six-week timeline. Tufts Technology Services also collaborate with academic advisors to ensure that the material can be adequately presented online.

Decisions about what courses to offer in the Summer Session, both in-class and online, are made by department chairs and their academic deans in consultation with the Summer at Tufts leadership team. Considerations about what courses are well-suited for the online format include how student learning, the delivery of course content, and student-faculty interaction can benefit from the online modality. We also look for courses with broad appeal and relevance to student interest. Online courses have to be developed in collaboration with the Tufts Technology Services following their policies and procedures. Faculty have found success with online courses in a huge range of disciplines,” they said,

While this opportunity is beneficial to many students, taking an online course that counts for credit requires Tufts undergraduate students to pay a fee of $990 per creditConsidering that most courses are three to four credits, taking one course amounts to about $2,970–$3,960. While this additional fee may deter students from taking an online course, there are a small number of scholarships available based upon financial need.

When asked about financial assistance provided to undergraduate students who are interested in taking an online course, Auner, Murray and Mulder said that online courses are less costly in comparison to courses offered during the regular academic year and pointed out the scholarships offered to students who demonstrate financial need.

“Online classes, like all courses offered during the Summer Session, are priced lower per SHU [semester credit hour] than the cost of tuition during the academic year.  Our courses are priced competitively with our peer institutions. The financial aid office has funds to provide a limited number of small scholarships for Summer Session courses for matriculated students. The priority is for students with the highest need, particularly those who are Pell grant recipients,they said.


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