Semester Online registration extended until Aug. 26

Sophomores, juniors and seniors offered a choice of 11 courses from peer universities

In the Semester Online course “Environmental and Energy Policies,” Washington University in St. Louis political science Professor Bill Lowry not only tells students how politicians impact the earth, he shows them.

In addition to watching a weekly live lecture with Lowry, in Arts & Sciences, students will view in-depth interviews with the park managers who operate two of the nation’s greatest treasures: Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

“Professors are bringing in outside voices and trying new things,” said Ian Van Tuyl, Semester Online’s chief content officer. “When we work with a professor to design their course, we ask them for their wish list of things they wish they could do. We’ve been able to make a lot of that happen.”

“Environmental and Energy Policies” is one of the 11 online courses offered this fall to WUSTL students through Semester Online, a consortium of top peer universities. Other options include “Shakespeare and Film,” from Notre Dame; “Drugs and Behavior,” from Emory University; “Leading and Managing: An Introduction to Organizational Behavior,” from University of North Carolina; and “How to Rule the World,” from Boston College.

Washington University students have until Aug. 26 to register for the courses. Each section is limited to 20 students. Courses include a live, 80-minute weekly class plus pre-produced online content such as guest interviews, panel discussions and dramatizations. But students do more than watch the asynchronous material — they engage in it.

“A professor can show an interview and pose questions to the online student and that student has to respond,” said Van Tuyl. “It makes the live class much richer. And the professor will know who has worked their way through the materials. We like to joke that there is no back row on the Internet.”

Washington University announced last fall its participation in Semester Online, a consortium of leading schools. Other members include Boston College, Brandeis University, Emory University, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Notre Dame.

The goal is to improve upon campus courses that are already great, said Van Tuyl. For instance, “Vietnam: America’s War at Home and Abroad” features a panel discussion with Vietnam vets; “Leading and Managing” includes dramatizations of business-place scenarios; and “Baseball and American Culture” showcases interviews with former big leaguers.

WUSTL Associate Provost Shelley Milligan said the Semester Online experience will match the give-and-take of the best seminars. When students log on for a Semester Online class, they each will see the faces of their fellow students arranged in a grid.

“Think of it like the opening of The Brady Bunch,” said Milligan. “It’s a very different way of taking these courses, all of which will have a discussion component. You may not have that in a lecture class with 200 to 300 people.”

Milligan believes Semester Online courses will be as rigorous, if not more so, than their campus counterparts.

“For students who think this is a blow-off way to take a course, they might be surprised,” said Milligan. “You will really have to keep up.”

Milligan said the university will measure outcomes and survey students about their experience. The School of Law introduced an online LLM last spring through 2U, a Semester Online partner and a leader in creating online academic experiences for top colleges and universities.

“We’ll definitely put the Semester Online courses through the same evaluation we have for on-campus courses,” said Milligan. “But beyond that, are there ways to test how and what students learn? And are there lessons we can learn from this manner of instruction that could positively influence other courses? We’ll study those questions, too.”

Milligan said the addition of online learning does not diminish Washington University’s identity as a residential college. It merely means more options for its diverse student body.

“Taking ‘The Rise of Christianity’ from a leading professor at Notre Dame – that’s a pretty neat experience for someone at Washington University,” said Milligan. “This is an interesting experiment, and I think it’s advantageous to be on the cutting edge of something new.”

In the spring, Washington University will offer three additional courses: “Introduction to Psychology,” taught by Brian Carpenter, PhD, an associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences; “Critical Earth Issues,” with Michael Wysession, PhD, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, also in Arts & Sciences; and “Introduction to Computer Science,” by Ron Cytron, PhD, professor of computer science.

Students who are interested in registering for Semester Online classes should remember:

• Semester Online classes are free, although there is a penalty for dropping after Semester Online’s drop date, Sept. 6.

• Start with your academic adviser. Not all courses will result in major credit.

• The classes are open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. First-year students are not eligible.

• Students may take one course per semester.

• Register at