The Office of Alumni Relations and the BAA are exploring distance learning as a way to increase alumni participation in university life. They understand that only the faculty can provide content, but wish to explore the possibilities, assuming that such content were available. They would like to see our committee reflect the needs of alumni. They were pleased to note that the Provost had included alumni relations in his charge to the committee.
We had a wide-ranging discussion that identified many areas of potential common interest between the faculty and alumni. We anticipate considerable faculty interest in more interaction with alumni, especially if appropriate incentives can be provided. In some cases, the prospect of contact with interesting people is sufficient incentive in itself. In cases where additional work in course preparation is needed, proper incentives will be necessary to persuade busy people to spend time preparing content for wider distribution.
A certain conundrum emerges from the fact that alumni are not necessarily willing to pay much for events they perceive as alumni benefits or even entitlements. On the other hand, there was also general agreement that one needs to charge in keeping with the value of an offering in order for it to be taken seriously.(See comments by ADF.)
This conundrum led into a general discussion of alumni benefits (starting from the mention of email addresses for MIT graduates), including lifelong learning as a benefit for which alumni might be willing to pay. The model of corporate funding for the Stanford the electrical engineering masters program, namely, companies pay the cost of broadcast television linkups and tuition, might be adapted to Brown. Could we persuade companies that it might be in their interest to pick up part of the costs of a Brown program for their employees?
Peter Bernstein posited that alumni have many interests. Some might be satisfied with a few courses whereas others might prefer to receive a certificate indicating that a large body of work is completed. Others might need to complete the requirements for a degree.
We also discussed what would constitute a successful distance learning program and Peter proposed the following criteria:
Some discussion centered on the degree to which courses are already offered in a form that could readily be adapted for external use. There are courses (e.g., in Computer Science) that appear to be in a nearly suitable form while others do not even have an on-line syllabus.
We discussed the notion that faculty-alumni contact would not be a one-way street and that alumni input could contribute directly to keeping Brown education more in touch with current realities. Masters degree programs in liberal studies may also offer an important direction to consider, especially if such programs offer some technical skills to go along with the "liberal" components of the curriculum. One example cited was the case of a person scheduled to take a foreign assignment who needs language skills and a broadened cultural perspective to cope with the new environment.
Some time was devoted to terminology: