Computer science professor John Mitchell will be the first vice provost for online learning, a new office created by president John Hennessy to position Stanford as the global leader in online education.
“[Online education] is a field that deserves increasing attention and investment,” Hennessy said. “The new office of the vice provost is in keeping with Stanford’s tradition of leadership in innovation and experimentation.”
Projects under vice provost Mitchell’s purview will be a part of the Stanford Online initiative, programs that seek to extend Stanford’s teaching and learning experiences globally through technology.
The creation of the Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning – part of the larger Stanford Online initiative – signals both a restructuring of the university and its dedication to ensuring pedagogical agility and rigor in the face of global, economic and social transformations.
The Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning, or VPOL, is the newest addition to emphases placed by the school on online education. Stanford’s schools of Business, Engineering, and Medicine have already appointed faculty members to explore online education in their curricula and faculty-taught courses in engineering, math, social science, and entrepreneurship are slated to be online in the coming academic year.
“Stanford has been at the forefront of this game-changing, challenging initiative,” Hennessy said in announcing Mitchell’s appointment. “Our faculty have been working in online education for some time now, and their excitement is growing. This is a field that deserves increasing attention and investment, and the new Office of the Vice Provost is in keeping with Stanford’s tradition of leadership in innovation and experimentation.
“I’m delighted that John Mitchell has agreed to accept this challenge and serve as our first vice provost.”
These courses could be made available only to Stanford students or adapted to become massive open online courses for the public.
Mitchell is excited at the prospect of pushing the boundaries of education, emphasizing that individual departments and faculty members can take this initiative as far as they want to.
“While all the departments and schools have their own approaches, we’re all one university working together to leverage web platforms, video technology, social networking, simulation and other tools to improve education for everyone,” he said.
The underlying challenge is this: How can Stanford faculty best teach students, both those enrolled on campus and lifelong learners? VPOL will enable the university essentially to become a laboratory of learning for the benefit of teachers everywhere, by providing leadership and information as the online education movement develops.
Stanford Online comprises courses taught by Stanford faculty, software designed by and for Stanford faculty, a new website offering resources and community to those involved in online learning, and the seed grants. Mitchell also will oversee technical production and communications related to the online learning effort.
“This is a very exciting time to be in education,” Mitchell said. “While technology provides many new possibilities, the fundamental question is how to improve teaching and learning with these tools. With Stanford’s tradition of innovation and academic excellence, we have the perfect environment for trying many new approaches across campus. Many faculty are enthusiastic about showing off their courses to the world, but our deepest interest is in improving the educational experience for our students. In the process, we can use technology to expand our student base and provide exciting learning opportunities worldwide.”
It is quite rare for Stanford to establish vice-provostial offices. Nearly 20 years ago the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education was created; and in 2007 the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education opened. Both fundamentally reshaped education at Stanford. VPOL intends to do the same.
Faculty members have stepped up to the challenge. Around 15 courses will be offered online in fall quarter by Stanford faculty, covering engineering, mathematics, social science, education and entrepreneurship, and many more are lined up for winter and spring. The deans of the schools of Medicine, Engineering and Business have appointed faculty members to spearhead online learning at their respective schools, and assigned resources to encourage experimentation among students and faculty.
“We’ve had exciting proposals for new courses and new online resources from humanities, sciences, engineering and the professional schools,” Mitchell said. “We’ll see some great learning material from the School of Medicine that can help improve health for everyone. While all the departments and schools have their own approaches, we’re all one university working together to leverage web platforms, video technology, social networking, simulation and other tools to improve education for everyone.”
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