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Online learning with the University of the People – part 2

We continue our chat with Shai Reshef on the online learning landscape and its place within society.

Safeera Sarjoo
26th April 2016
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Continuing on from the first part of our interview, our conversation with Shai Reshef turns to online learning within society. I was keen to find out whether online universities are able to coexist with universities that charge tuition and of course how employers feel about degrees achieved through an online program.

 

In your opinion, why would online learning be an attractive option for prospective students?

- Financial – it is much cheaper. UoPeople is tuition-free. Also no printing costs or textbook fees – At UoPeople all resources are OER.

- Flexibility – Online learning allows students the flexibility to be able to work, juggle family life, and study in their own time and at their own pace;

- Convenience – Classes can be accessed from any place where there’s a basic internet connection, including smart phones and tablets, making studying on the go very convenient; 

- Capacity – There is no shortage of seats in an online classroom – there is room for everyone and no one needs to stand at the back of a lecture hall.

- Access – Many people are faced with various constraints to accessing higher education, whether they are political, financial, social, cultural or other. Online learning removes such barriers.

- Global village- In an online class you can meet people from all over the world, from places where you might not have a chance to ordinarily come into contact with them (we have enrolled students from 180 countries)- this kind of international networking expands one’s perspectives and broadens horizons greatly; students in online classes become truly part of the global village. At UoPeople, our classes are capped to around 20 students per class, usually representing as many countries. Students gain individual attention from the instructor as well as learn a lot from other students’ feedback.

 

From an employer perspective, how do they regard online education? Do they value a college/university degree over an online degree, or is equal respect given?

People have various opinions regarding online degrees because they are a new concept in contrast to the old tradition of physically attending school. Online students are entrepreneurial, resourceful and particularly ambitious. Most of the time, students who find their way to UoPeople have come from various challenging life circumstances and therefore students who come out with a degree from UoPeople have already demonstrated a very high level of self-motivation and discipline with a lot of drive and promise to succeed. UoPeople graduates have a unique global perspective and are accustomed to working in international teams, which means they do not need to be micro-managed. In today’s open, social, interconnected economy, these students are at the forefront of modern collaborative business models – these are very valuable qualities. 

Our peer-to-peer learning, which teaches the students to study and interact with other students from around the world, is part of what works best in international companies, where people need to work with teams from around the world. More and more companies are beginning to recognize online degrees these days – so we believe it is just a matter of time before there will be more universal acceptance of online education and online degrees.

 

Sceptics might assume that because you’re getting a tuition free degree, the quality of the course content may falter. How do you handle and respond to speculation of this nature? How do you guarantee that students gain quality education?

University is tuition-free in several countries around the world – it used to be free in the UK and parts of the U.S too. Because the model is tuition-free, it doesn’t say anything about the quality of the education. UoPeople received accreditation from the Accreditation Commission of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), a U.S. Department of Education authorized accrediting agency. All over the world, people appreciate the quality of accredited American degrees. Accreditation is an indication of quality. It offers assurance that UoPeople provides valuable instruction by qualified professors, offers student advising and services created for the benefit of its students, employs ethical admissions policies, and engages in continual self-improvement.

Moreover, one can look at who is behind the university to see the caliber of support and recognition.

 

Do you think online education has the ability to impact universities in any way? Or is it the case where both can co-exist?

Studying online is an effective and successful way to learn, and many of the best universities in the world, as well as almost all universities in the U.S. are offering more and more online courses, and many offer full degrees online.  There is also a strong movement for open platform education; this means organizations like UoPeople are working to bring education online in a more affordable manner.

We have just announced a new partnership with University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley will accept qualified, top-performing UoPeople Associate’s degree graduates, who wish to transfer to complete a Bachelor's degree at Berkeley.  We are thrilled to have this collaboration between Berkeley and University of the People because this recognition is the ultimate endorsement of the value of our degrees and it offers a great opportunity for our students. Now the most accomplished UoPeople students may be able to further pursue their dreams by attending one of the best ranked universities in the world.

We also have a partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, wherein after one year of studying at UoPeople, our top-performing students may be selected to transfer to complete their studies with a full scholarship at NYU Abu Dhabi. I think these kinds of partnerships suggest that online and traditional universities can not only co-exist, but that they can thrive together and feed into each other’s success, opening the gates to further possibilities for deserving students around the world in an affordable way.

 

Student experience is a huge element when you make the decision to go to university. What kind of student experience does online education and more specifically, the UoPeople offer?

The University of the People student body hails from over 180 countries worldwide, inspiring interesting dialogue between peers, and offers students alternative perspectives to their own. University of the People’s pedagogical model is based on an online collaborative learning environment that promotes a culture of shared learning, dialog among peers, interaction and peer-to-peer teaching and assessment, and utilizes open-source technology along with open educational resources.

Peer-to-peer interaction is a hallmark of the UoPeople program and central to the learning process in the Management MBA.  The UoPeople small online classroom setting allows for a community of supportive collective peer thinkers and teachers. Professors focus on each student’s needs and provide full support; while creating a community for students to work cooperatively and assist one another. Students share their experiences, so that knowledge-sharing and motivational support occurs on a peer-to-peer level, creating an open space for students to learn, share ideas, ask questions, and generate solutions pertaining to their academic experiences. Students are also provided with technical support throughout their studies in the classroom.

In addition, UoPeople uses Microsoft Yammer for its internal social media network.  Here, students can network with other UoPeople students, even those who are not in the same class.

 

UoPeople offer courses in Computer Science and Business Administration.

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