Video from David Sobel’s "Children's Thinking: The Nature of Cognitive Development" (Summer Session online course)


Brown’s strategic plan, Building on Distinction, calls for “experimentation in new modes of education” to “increase the quality of education, strengthen the curriculum in key areas, and expand opportunities for Brown students to connect their academic experiences to the world outside of Brown.”

The School of Professional Studies advances these goals by partnering with Brown faculty to develop fully online, credit-bearing, undergraduate-level courses. Courses take place during the academic year, over seven weeks during Summer Session, and over four weeks during Wintersession, enabling students to pursue study while they are engaged in activities away from campus.

View current undergraduate online courses at [email protected] by selecting "Online Only" from the "In Person and Online" drop-down menu in the advanced search.


  • 17 courses; 1 in development (as of Summer 2018)

  • 15-week courses during Fall and Spring semesters; 7-week intensives during Summer Session; 4-week intensives during Wintersession

  • SPS + department partnership

  • 1+ faculty per course

  • 1 instructional designer per course

  • SPS Digital Media Group

  • Canvas LMS


SPS’s Online experts know that effective learning depends on high-quality instructional design.

To develop a fully online undergraduate course, faculty partner with an SPS instructional designer to discuss the essence and aims of the course, develop clear course learning objectives, and design engaging assignments, discussions, and activities that support those objectives using student-centered pedagogical practices and design principles proven effective for online learning.

The timeframe for course development depends in large part upon instructor schedules/availability, but a semester-equivalent course typically takes about 3-6 months to develop, from project kickoff to launch.

Learn more about SPS's course development process.

Project Contact: Larry Bouthillier, Senior Director for Digital Initiatives ([email protected])



  • Student demand is high: courses tend to enroll fully and have waiting lists.

  • A growing network of engaged, innovative faculty committed to the effective use of technology to enhance student learning

  • Students report tight-knit learning communities and the pleasure and meaningfulness of intense focus on a single Summer Session course

  • Faculty report that working one-to-one with an instructional designer to design and facilitate online courses is an invigorating experience that positively impacts their face-to-face teaching practices and course design

  • Participating faculty and graduate students gain valuable skills in online course design and facilitation

  • Students can engage in developmental pursuits such as internships, work, and study abroad while remaining connected to Brown and furthering their degree work

  • Both faculty and students experience deepened engagement with course material stemming from the continuous dialogue, reflection, and connection enabled by the online format

  • Allows additional enrollment in face-to-face courses at capacity

“I felt very connected to my classmates and instructor, even more so than at many courses on campus. This might be the best course I've taken at Brown.” - Undergraduate Online student, 2015

“[My professor’s] comments on my essays were extremely helpful and thoughtful. When I talked to her on the phone or Skyped with her, she was so kind and helped me in understanding not only the topics I was writing about better, but she helped me understand my own thought process and my own writing skills better as well.” - Undergraduate Online student, 2015

“What a joy! … I’m not sure I have been this satisfied with anything before at Brown, not to mention how much fun I have had teaching a course that covers EXACTLY what I like talking about.” - Patricia Risica, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, School of Public Health


  • For the summer and winter intensive sessions, the challenge lies in condensing an entire semester’s worth of content and instruction into a 4- to 7-week timeframe, while meeting course objectives and providing a meaningful learning experience.

  • Helping faculty to better understand how online course design and facilitation differs from classroom facilitation, particularly the amount of planning required to produce a quality learning experience for the student.

Online courses for Brown undergraduates advance the University’s experiments with employing technology to “discove[r] unique ways to enhance faculty-student interaction, create peer communities in large lectures … and customize the learning experience for students.” (Provost’s Operational Plan for Building Brown’s Excellence, 9/15/15, p. 38) The Operational Plan reports, “Early results indicate that technology can enhance the personalized learning culture that is so central to Brown’s mission and reputation….  [I]ntegration of technology into our education creates new possibilities for extending the reach of Brown professors to students engaged in activities off campus, such as study abroad; allowing for more engaged student-faculty interactions in high-enrollment STEM courses; and providing greater flexibility for faculty teaching and research agendas.”

Course content developed for fully online courses is available to be used year over year and in both residential instruction and repeat offerings of the online course. (Revision is easier than the first development effort!)