Council on Teaching and Learning Strategic Review of Online Education

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Higher education faces a wide array of new opportunities and challenges related to the recent emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other forms of online instruction. Online technology might make teaching more interactive and widely available, or it might dilute quality and shortchange students. Princeton must consider carefully how it should respond to this rapidly changing landscape. Princeton's mission requires that it think not only about how online technology should affect teaching on its own campus, but also about whether and how this University might, by example or through its research, play a leadership role in shaping the impact of online technology on higher education. We would accordingly ask that, as part of the University's larger strategic planning process, the Council on Teaching and Learning prepare a report that recommends strategic priorities and specific measures for guiding Princeton's ongoing approach to online instruction.

The overarching questions in this area include how Princeton should take advantage of new developments in online learning and technology in the classroom to enhance the quality of education on our campus, whether and how Princeton should use MOOCs or other technology to expand the reach of its teaching, and whether and how Princeton can contribute to research about the efficacy and value of online teaching. In formulating your response, we ask the council to investigate (but not be limited to) the following questions:

  1. What goals should guide Princeton's overall strategy with regard to the evolution of online education? Should it attempt to pioneer new techniques; to research the efficacy of online pedagogies; to be a consumer (rather than a producer) of pedagogies that are useful to its students; or to play some other role? Where can and should Princeton have the greatest impact?
  2. How should we regard the pedagogical value of online technology to instruction at Princeton? What have been the pedagogical success stories at peer institutions and elsewhere? Where have there been failures? How should these successes and failures inform our strategy and approach to online instruction both in Princeton courses and MOOCs created by our faculty? In addressing this question, the council may wish to consider questions such as:
    1. Can online technology allow us to be more efficient (e.g., by serving more students with fewer staff) without compromising the quality of education?
    2. Can online technology enhance the quality of courses at Princeton (e.g., by enabling us to offer more in-depth faculty-student interaction, or to offer a greater variety of courses)?
    3. Can online technology improve the educational experience of students whose commitments or interests (e.g., civic engagement, study abroad, athletics, etc.) raise scheduling or course-planning issues?
    4. Can online technology be used to improve the quality or availability of academic support services or provide supplemental instruction that better serves the needs of an increasingly diverse student body?
  3. What are the benefits and costs associated with the public dissemination of Princeton's instructional materials? Should Princeton actively promote wider distribution of such materials and, if so, how? More particularly:
    1. Should Princeton actively encourage faculty members to develop online offerings (including but not limited to MOOCs)?  If so — recognizing that time invested in developing online course materials takes time away from other activities — how should we do so?
    2. Are there specific University rules or policies that create barriers to the creation or effective use of online materials? If so, can these barriers be mitigated without defeating the purposes of those rules or policies?
    3. Given that the development of online instructional materials involves costs in terms of time, money and space, what principles should guide whether such investments are worth the cost?  
  4. Are there collaborative opportunities or partnerships that Princeton might pursue with other institutions?
  5. To what extent is Princeton providing sufficient support for the development of online teaching on its campus? If not, what additional support is most needed? Would it be possible to reallocate existing resources or programs to provide such support?

The consideration of the above questions should be informed not only by what we are seeing here at Princeton but also by what is known about how online learning tools and methods are utilized at peer institutions.

This charge does not raise again the important questions about intellectual property addressed in the report of the ad hoc faculty committee on online courses (the Rosen Committee). However, the Council is encouraged to consider and build upon — and, if necessary, suggest modifications to — that report as appropriate in formulating its strategic recommendations. (The report has not yet been adopted by the faculty, but it is anticipated that the Rosen Committee's recommendations, or portions of them, will come before the faculty this year.)

We look forward to keeping in touch with you about your thinking and work in this emerging aspect of higher education. We realize that this is a time-consuming task, and are grateful for your efforts.


This study will be conducted by the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning.


  • Harvey Rosen, John L. Weinberg Professor of Economics and Business Policy

Faculty members

  • Wendy Belcher, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and African American Studies.
  • Edward Felten, Robert E. Kahn Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs; Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs; Director, Center of Information Technology Policy; Associate Director, Program in Technology and Society.
  • Carol Greenhouse, Arthur W. Marks '19 Professor of Anthropology; Chair, Department of Anthropology
  • Fred Hughson, Professor of Molecular Biology
  • Adam Maloof, Associate Professor of Geosciences
  • Simone Marchesi, Associate Professor of French and Italian
  • Rodney Priestley, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Staff members

  • Cole Crittenden, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Office of the Dean of the Graduate School
  • Lisa Herschbach, Director of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, Associate Dean of the College
  • Jeff Himpele, Director of Teaching Initiatives and Programs, McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning