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Faculty hear reports on Stanford's Istanbul program and Stanford Online

At Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting, Ramón Saldívar presented an overview of Stanford's study abroad program. John Mitchell, vice provost for online learning, led a panel discussion on online learning at Stanford and beyond.

L.A. Cicero Ramon Saldivar speaking before the Faculty Senate.

Ramon Saldivar, director of the Bing Overseas Studies Program, addressing the Faculty Senate on Thursday

In January 2015, Stanford will launch a pilot program in Istanbul, the university's first overseas studies program in a predominantly Muslim country, Ramón Saldívar, director of the Bing Overseas Studies Program, announced at Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting.

Saldívar described Istanbul as an extraordinary place whose magical qualities can be discovered simply by walking its streets.

"This course will be a quarter-length course," he said. "But unlike our other existing quarter-length courses, we're not actually looking to create a brick-and-mortar site," added Saldívar, who also is a professor of English and of comparative literature.

Instead, Stanford is partnering with Koç University, a nonprofit private university, which will provide classrooms, housing, field trips and cultural programs under a 10-week contract. Koç teaches all its classes in English. The president of Koç is Umran Inan, a Stanford professor emeritus of electrical engineering.

Leading the program will be Ali Yaycioglu, an assistant professor of Middle East history, and Kabir Tambar, an assistant professor of anthropology.

Yaycioglu, who was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey, is an expert on the Ottoman Empire. He taught a three-week overseas seminar in Istanbul two years ago.

Tambar, whose work examines the intersections of Islam, secularism, the state and religious diversity in Turkey, joined the Stanford faculty in 2012.

The Istanbul program is one of several new initiatives of Bing Overseas Studies. With the addition of the pilot project in Istanbul, Stanford will provide its academic offerings in 12 locations around the world.

Saldívar also announced that the Stanford program in Oxford would be closed during autumn quarter 2014-15 for renovations to Stanford House, a collection of buildings where students live and study. Under the renovation, the university will make parts of the facility more accessible to students with disabilities, modernize student living spaces and add a larger academic space for groups.

This year, Saldívar said, more than 900 Stanford students will be studying overseas under the program, including more than 100 students taking three-week seminars.

A panel talks about online education

L.A. CiceroMitchell Stevens, left, Candace Thille and John Mitchell,

Mitchell Stevens, left, Candace Thille and John Mitchell, speaking about online education at the Faculty Senate on Thursday

President John Hennessy introduced the topic of online education by outlining Stanford's three goals in that arena: Use online technology to improve the learning experience for Stanford students; use online technology to extend the university's "reach" so that Stanford students can take courses they need as part of their requirements while studying overseas; use online technology as a tool to help others in the education community within the United States and globally.

"Higher education faces a challenge, and depending on where you are in the world, the challenge is one of affordability or accessibility," Hennessy said. "In the U.S. the challenge is rapidly becoming affordability; in many parts of the world, sub-Saharan Africa, for example, it's accessibility. We see this as an avenue where we can make a contribution to the greater good."

Mitchell L. Stevens, associate professor of education, said that with the arrival of online education, the world is on the verge of an "epochal and pivotal moment" in the history of higher education on a scale of importance as deep as the expansion of higher education after World War II with the GI Bill.

"This is a very different kind of change," said Stevens. "It feels frightening to many of us because an epoch is ending – an epoch that many of us profited from and had a great deal of ideological investment in. But like that other change, I think it's also a moment that's ripe with possibilities and reasons to be optimistic in ways that we're just beginning to imagine."

Candace Thille, assistant professor of education and senior research fellow at the Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning, said Stanford is in a privileged position because of its resources and its amazing research capacity.

"But the really big reason we're in a privileged position is because the world is watching Stanford," Thille said. "And we have an opportunity, in this transformation that Mitchell [Stevens] was talking about, to shape it and to play a real leadership role – as opposed to letting the transformation happen. And I'm going to encourage us to take a very active leadership role."

Stevens and Thille are conveners of Education's Digital Future, a project of Stanford Graduate School of Education designed as a hub for discussion of critical questions about the digital transformation of education – through coursework, town-hall forums and expert lectures.

John Mitchell, vice provost for online learning and a professor of computer science, said Stanford would like to develop materials and use them in multiple ways.

"Faculty time is a really scarce resource, so if we can produce things that are useful on campus for our own students here, and then distribute, market and repackage them in different ways, we'll get a much greater leverage and productivity out of our effort than if we were to produce different kinds of material for different audiences."

Over the last two years, Mitchell said, more than 100 Stanford faculty from all seven schools have worked to produce 171 different courses, including on-campus experiences that used technology in an innovative way or public online classes.

"I think there are about 65 distinct new MOOCs [massive open online courses] that we have released on different platforms," Mitchell said. "I think that's much more than any other institution, so we clearly have had a big impact and an ability to reach further through that medium than other institutions."

The full minutes of the Jan. 23 meeting will be available on the Faculty Senate website next week. The minutes will include the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations. The next senate meeting will be held Feb. 6.