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UB Looks to Future of Online Education Via Author Taylor Branch's New 'Citizenship and Freedom' Course

Online Course, Piloted by UB and University System of Maryland, Will Bring Robust Suite of Materials and Resources to Undergraduate Study of Civil Rights Era

November 11, 2013
Contact: University Relations
Phone: 410.837.5739

With the launch of a spring 2014 online course on the history of the civil rights movement—taught by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch in recognition of the movement's 50th anniversary—the University of Baltimore will introduce a bold exploratory effort to make online learning accessible and intellectually challenging for an expandable universe of students at affordable cost.

Read about the new course in The Baltimore Sun.

Get updates on the course through UB's Office of Academic Innovation blog.

The University of Baltimore will deliver a pilot course, entitled Citizenship and Freedom: The Civil Rights Era, in collaboration with the University System of Maryland's (USM) Center for Innovation and Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CIELT). It follows a highly-praised course that was offered at UB last spring by Branch, who serves as an adjunct faculty member in UB's Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences and will become the Elkins Professor of Academic Transformation in the USM's CIELT for 2014.

The for-credit course will be available to students on campus at UB as well as to students online across the USM. Institutions that offer the course will be charged a licensing fee for delivery of the instructional content. The fee, to cover direct cost of instruction, will be scaled based on the institutions' tuition rates and the number of students enrolled in the course via those institutions. Licensing arrangements for the spring 2014 pilot course will grant an initial 10 percent or more discount below current tuition rates at the host institution. UB will license the course to institutions outside the USM if requested, and will also accept a limited number of unaffiliated, individual applicants, who can earn credit as special part-time UB students.

"This course is dedicated to students of freedom and teachers of history," said Branch. "By expanding the reach of seminar methods with online technology, we seek more broadly to engage historic issues of citizenship that endure from the civil rights era. I am grateful to leaders from the University of Baltimore and University System of Maryland for creative innovation toward this goal."

The new pilot course will modify the best components of massively open online courses and traditional face-to-face instruction by providing performance-measured education for academic credit in a seminar format, while also providing high levels of interaction and individualized support not often available in MOOCs. Groups of up to 25 students will benefit from the individualized attention from a course assistant who works directly with Prof. Branch, an expert historian on the civil rights movement. This model should ensure that all students are held to the same standards and, in effect, receive the same feedback had it come from Branch directly.

Branch, best known for his landmark trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years, said he plans to expand the number of guest experts who were witnesses to the civil rights era, and also work with UB and CIELT officials to investigate additional course delivery methods and to be part of the effort to maximize the pedagogical effectiveness of the course.

During the pilot period, course assistants will be provided by UB as part of the licensing fees. They will be coordinated by a course manager as well as by Prof. Branch, and assisted by instructional support staff at UB. As part of the assessment of the pilot, the feasibility of using local course instructors from the participating institutions will be explored. Course credit will come via the participating institutions, which will roster the course under an "experimental," "advanced seminar," or "special topics" course number for which students will enroll.

UB Provost Joseph Wood praised the collaborative efforts of UB's Office of Academic Innovation and CIELT to deliver a course that is relevant to a wide range of student populations.

"Higher education has expanded to include students of all ages and all levels of preparation, sometimes referred to as 'post-traditional,'" Wood said. "They must wedge education into their complex lives, and we need to help them do it successfully, if we are to achieve our nation's college completion goals. This effort is just one way we may be able to support a high level of student academic achievement."

Given the high degree of efficacy within Branch's course materials, coupled with the fact that the programming is being delivered by UB and the USM to a group of institutions with whom there are already close working relationships and a high degree of familiarity, it is likely that this model will be useful in meeting the educational needs of thousands of Maryland’s college students in the future.

Innovations that build upon successful experiments such as Citizenship and Freedom will help fulfill the promise of the virtual classroom after a period of testing the limits of the technology.

"Our objective is clear," Wood said. "We want to examine whether we can provide a unique, high quality, for-credit, academic learning experience for a significant number of students while slowing the increasing cost of higher education."

More information about the spring 2014 course with Taylor Branch will be announced in the coming days. Given the tight timeframe and the limited nature of the pilot, interested institutions are encouraged to inquire about participation as soon as possible. Questions can be directed to Sunni Solomon at ssolomon@ubalt.edu.

The University of Baltimore is a member of the University System of Maryland and comprises the College of Public Affairs, the Merrick School of Business, the UB School of Law and the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences.