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Cornell Report Notes Promise of Distance Learning but Cautions Against Overtaxing Faculty

The future of distance learning, in particular massive open online courses (MOOCs), "holds much promise," according to a new report released by the Distance Learning Committee (DLC) at Cornell University. Presented in February to Provost Kent Fuchs and the Faculty Senate, the report states that online learning offers valuable opportunities to students and outlines policy recommendations for building a robust program.

The Distance Learning Committee comprises faculty members, administrators and IT leaders. Laura Brown, senior vice provost for undergraduate education at the school, chaired the committee.

The new report advises the institution to develop a scalable, diverse menu of online offerings. "Cornell should pursue a diverse portfolio of distance learning avenues, continually rebalancing it as evidence emerges," stated the committee in the executive summary of the report. In doing this, though, the institution should take steps to ensure that faculty members do not overextend themselves. "In particular we do not want our faculty making commitments that adversely impact on-campus teaching and research."

Instead, the group suggests, Cornell should foster skills that can benefit online and on-campus courses. "As part of our commitment to new opportunities, we should continue to nurture expertise in video/web production, as well as relevant pedagogy -- investments that also benefit on-campus teaching."

Additional recommendations from the group include:

  • Exercising caution with new edX commitments;
  • Not awarding credit for MOOCs at Cornell;
  • Assessing the impacts of licensing MOOCs;
  • Expanding access and generating revenue;
  • Pursuing only high-quality distance-learning projects;
  • Creating collaborative organizational structure; and
  • Interpreting policies in ways that enhance innovative distance learning.

The full report is available for download from Cornell's site.

About the Author

Kanoe Namahoe is online editor for 1105 Media's Education Group. She can be reached at

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