Stanford University has appointed computer scientist John Mitchell its first vice provost for online learning. The appointment is part of a larger Stanford Online initiative that the university said would restructure learning and better position it as a worldwide learning institution.
Mitchell is the Mary and Gordon Crary Family professor in the School of Engineering. President John Hennessy named him chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Technology in Higher Education earlier this year. The university announced the vice-provost appointment Aug. 30.
Hennessy said the online initiative would reach Stanford students but also lifelong learners throughout the world. Its online presence helps the university take its place amid the global change in social and educational technology by using Web platforms, video technology, social networking, simulation and other tools.
The Stanford Online initiative offers courses taught by Stanford faculty, software designed by and for Stanford faculty, a new website with resources to those involved in online learning, and seed grants. Mitchell also will oversee technical production and communications related to the online learning effort, the university said. The redesigned website will be launched Sept. 21.
"Stanford has been at the forefront of this game-changing, challenging initiative. Our faculty has 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," he said.
Provost John Etchemendy, to whom Mitchell will report, said online learning offers dual possibilities.
"Our primary mission is to teach Stanford students, but it is also the university's mission to disseminate knowledge widely, through textbooks, scholarly publications and so forth. Technology provides ways to both improve our existing classes and to extend our reach. By using technology creatively, we can tap the tremendous teaching talent we have on campus to offer new learning opportunities to millions of people, both in the United States and around the world," he said.
Mitchell said this is an exciting time to be in education.
"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," he said.
Stanford rarely establishes new vice-provost offices. The university created the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education nearly 20 years ago; and in 2007 the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education opened. Both fundamentally reshaped education at Stanford, university officials said.
About 15 courses will be offered online in the fall quarter by Stanford faculty, covering engineering, mathematics, social science, education and entrepreneurship. 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 schools, and they assigned resources to encourage experimentation among students and faculty, the university said.
"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."