Provost Polak appoints Professor Craig Wright as first academic director of online education, creates university-wide committee, and partners with Coursera for MOOCs

The academic director and standing committee will advise the provost on new initiatives and policy issues. The first offerings with Coursera will debut during the 2013–2014 academic year.
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Yale has taken a further step into the world of online learning with the creation of a new position, academic director of online education, and the establishment of a standing committee on online education to advise the Provost on new initiatives and policy issues, Provost Benjamin Polak has announced.

Professor Craig Wright has been named the first academic director of online education.

These developments build on the recommendations from the Report of the Dean’s Committee on Online Education, which was presented to the Yale College faculty in December. The report supported the University’s expansion of its online learning programs.

“The University has been an innovator in online teaching for over a decade,” noted Polak in his May 15 letter to the campus community announcing the initiatives.

Yale first forayed into online education in 2000 as part of the AllLearn Consortium, and in 2006 launched the pioneering Open Yale Courses (OYC) program, which makes courses taught by University faculty available worldwide for free. OYC, directed by Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner, now includes 42 courses covering a wide range of topics. In addition, since 2011, the University has offered online courses for credit in Yale College’s Summer Session and for language courses taught with Cornell and Columbia. Faculty from the Divinity School to the School of Medicine have also shared their teaching online, and the School of Nursing introduced the University’s first “hybrid” degree program (with some courses online and some on campus).

“To build on the progress we already have made in this area, we need to take care that our online initiatives complement and enrich Yale’s traditional pedagogy,” added Polak. “We need to deal carefully with the growing policy matters that relate to online education, including state regulations, privacy, and intellectual property issues.  And, crucially, we need to ensure that the faculty of all of Yale’s schools are equally served by the programs and resources we put in place.”

Academic director of online education

Craig Wright, the Henry L. & Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music, has been appointed as the inaugural academic director of online education, a part-time position. Wright was a co-chair (with Professor Paul Bloom) of the Yale College Committee on Online Education, and he has taught both an online course for credit in Yale College Summer Session and a non-credit online Open Yale Course.

Professor Craig Wright has taught both a non-credit Open Yale Course and a for-credit course through Yale’s Summer Sessions program.
“In this new role, Craig will serve as a resource for faculty across the University by creating a ‘community of practice’ for faculty interested in experimenting with online teaching methods. He will work closely with the Yale Teaching Center to develop best practices for the use of these technologies and to engage graduate students in their use. And he will provide guidance to shape the academic policies Yale will need to address this rapidly advancing area of education — reflecting the importance that we are placing on web-based teaching not just as a means of global access to Yale courses, but also as a mechanism for exploring new ways to teach the classes that we offer here on campus.”

The Provost announced that Vice President Linda Lorimer and Lucas Swineford, director of the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education, will continue to be the administrative leaders for online education.

You can learn more about Yale’s online education initiatives by visiting

Standing committee on online education

Among the recommendations of the Yale College Committee on Online Education was the creation of a University Committee on Online Education, noted Polak. The new standing committee will draw from the professional schools as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he said, “to advise me about online education initiatives. This group can offer counsel on the emerging policy issues and keep abreast of the evolving landscape of online education.”

Wright will chair the committee as part of his new role.

Partnership with Coursera

Yale will partner with Coursera to explore new opportunities for massive, open online courses (MOOCs) taught by Yale faculty, Polak announced, noting that 62 institutions of higher education— including Princeton, Columbia, Penn, and Stanford — are posting online courses with Coursera.

The first Yale courses with Coursera will be disseminated during the 2013-2014 academic year. You can visit to learn more about each course. They are:

  • “Roman Architecture,” taught by Diana E. E. Kleiner: Dunham Professor of History of Art and Classics. This is a course for people who love history, architecture, and travel. Students will explore the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its vast empire in their ancient and contemporary contexts.
  • “Financial Markets,” taught by Robert J. Shiller: Sterling Professor of Economics. This course by one of the leading economists of our time will provide an overview of the ideas, methods, and institutions that permit human society to manage risks and foster enterprise.
  • “Moralities of Everyday Life,” taught by Paul Bloom: Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science. “How can we explain kindness and cruelty?” “Where does our sense of right and wrong come from?” “Why do people so often disagree about moral issues?” This course explores these questions and the psychological foundations of our moral lives.
  • “Constitutional Law,” taught by Akhil Reed Amar: Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science. Amar will introduce the main themes of the American Constitution — popular sovereignty, separation of powers, federalism, and rights — and explore methods of constitutional interpretation.

“I encourage other faculty members who are interested in learning more about possibly teaching a MOOC to contact Craig Wright directly,” said Polak. Wright, Lorimer, and Swineford will offer an information session to acquaint faculty with Coursera and other online platforms on Monday, June 10 at 3 p.m. in Stoeckel Hall, Rm. 106; the session will be repeated again in the fall.

Computer and icon images via Shutterstock.

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