Yeshiva University is building a new program within its Washington Heights walls: To send YU’s professors and coursework to the far ends of the earth—or at least as far as the Internet will take them. YU Global (http://global.yu.edu/), a program officially launched in February with fully online courses to be offered this summer, is a means of providing remote, collaboration-driven online courses in a variety of subjects.
“YU Global is an important evolutionary step for Yeshiva, offering a new, innovative approach to the delivery of advanced education and training,” said Dr. Selma Botman, YU Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost.
Online education expert Akiva Covitz says the online world was once the province of for-profit universities, but no longer. Nearly all of YU’s peer top-50 universities in the United States are also adding these elements to their educational line-up. In an interview, he indicated that such tools and offerings enhance YU’s core offerings. “They provide important new tools to help its traditional student base, plus they extend that base and extend YU’s market reach in an increasingly competitive environment,” he told JLNJ.
Covitz joined Yeshiva University last May as Executive Director for Strategy at YU Global. Covitz is a law and political science professor by training, and was formerly an associate dean at Harvard University Law School and a member of the Sharon, Mass. Jewish community. He identifies first and foremost as a professor and a teacher, though his past experience includes working directly for now-Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan when she was at Harvard Law School.
Approximately four years ago, Covitz was asked to teach online at the Harvard Extension School, which combines offline, blended and online courses and is now one of the university’s most important revenue generators. Covitz left Harvard to work as a vice president at edX, a non-profit created by founding partners Harvard and MIT that now includes more than 50 of the world’s leading universities and more than three million learners. At edX, Covitz worked with university partners globally to establish best practices about online education, and to collaborate with faculty and administrators on educational policy.
There, Covitz’s responsibility was “to find out how the best universities in the world were going to address online education,” he said. Now, at YU, he is helping to usher in a new era, to bring its recognizable name in education to the forefront of the growing, worldwide, online educational marketplace.
At YU Global, Covitz and his colleagues, led by Botman, have put together a team of 12 that includes instructional designers, technologists, a filmmaker and others who are collaborating with faculty, administrators, and staff at YU. “This agile, nimble little group of folks is working hard to translate the beauty and the rigor and the quality that YU has developed over generations to the online world,” Covitz said. Today, “every university I know anything about is doing the same thing,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, the business model of higher education is changing for everybody.”
YU Global is using an innovative learning management system called Moodle to house and deliver its courses. It allows faculty to add multiple components to their online courses at the click of a button, including surveys, quizzes and chats.
This summer, YU is also joining Coursera, an online learning portal which already includes 11.8 million learners. Schools that are already part of Coursera’s international consortium include the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Yale, the University of Chicago, Hebrew University and the Technion in Israel. Like edX where Covitz once worked, Coursera uses the Massive Open Online Course or “MOOC” model. Many of the courses are available for free, but if one seeks a verified certificate of completion or to be able to add an official specialization in a subject, a small fee is paid. Revenue comes from the scale of the courses, often exceeding 10,000 people per course.
Like most online coursework, people using Coursera can work at their own pace, and if they want to learn with the top faculty in the world, those that are credentialed and published, such courses will give them that option. “It’s taking the truly world-class faculty that we have and using these online tools to expand our market,” Covitz said.
Covitz explained that YU Global’s plans include using the online tools to do many things that YU has not done before. For example, YU, through the Sy Syms School of Business, has recently started offering an executive MBA for those who are working full-time. The program requires students to be present four Sundays a month for a significant part of the year, which is a big commitment that can complicate family life, especially for Orthodox Jews. “We are taking some classes of the executive MBA online, and now the student who would prefer it only needs to be present for two Sundays a month. This will expand the pool of people who can take this important step in their careers. It will bring new revenue to the school and also offers something meaningful to the student,” Covitz said.
Aside from the logistical perspective that it is easier to reach a new generation of students on their laptops, desktops and phones, “the online approach also will allow YU to reach people who want access to our education, but for whatever reason, can’t pull it off,” Covitz said. This includes people who live outside the metropolitan area, those training for a new career, or even those who have retired but are interested in non-credit lifelong learning programs, which YU Global will also offer. “There are many, many people in our community, transitioning from a full-time job to a time where they are working less, but still have a tremendous faculty for learning new things,” he added.
Covitz shared how he sees the benefit of online integration, blended learning and the “flipped classroom” concept even in the “bricks and mortar” political science classes he teaches at YU. “In my class at Yeshiva College, I have a number of students with special needs. I see those students sometimes losing the thread [of the lecture]. If my class was filmed and the student could just watch that as many times as he needs to, he would very likely be more comfortable and more successful. Then, with the flipped classroom concept, we could use the class time for discussion. The beauty of online in higher education is the transmission of information in ways that are more inclusive and engaging than the traditional lecture format,” he said.
YU’ traditional summer school program will continue, but this summer (http://www.yu.edu/academics/summer-program/) as part of the YU Global initiative, 10 classes will also be available fully online to both YU’s traditional students as well as to those outside the YU world. Each class involves “classroom time,” when students watch videos and do custom-designed exercises and engage in interactive discussion with other members of the course and the professor. A few times per week, the students also have dedicated time to interact live with the professor. These online courses include accounting, a civil rights course taught by Covitz, microeconomics, an English course on the “roaring ’20s,” psychology, and speech science.
Students will receive YU credit for these courses and students from outside YU can transfer these credits to their home institutions. In a very clear way starting this summer, these courses will extend the reach of YU’s learning to the whole world. YU has also recently launched a series of non-credit certificates in applied computer science, such as big data analysis, ecommerce, and mobile app development (http://global.yu.edu/courses-degrees/certificate/).
YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Education already has a fully online Master’s degree in Jewish education that one can take from anywhere in the world. More programs from across YU are scheduled for launch in the coming academic year.
By Elizabeth Kratz