Skip to main content

Northwestern Launches Its First Semester Online Course

Medill's Professor Candy Lee is teaching Integrated Marketing Communications

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Medill Professor Candy Lee will teach a course in Integrated Marketing Communications this fall that is Northwestern University’s first course offering as a member of the Semester Online consortium launching innovative classes this week.

Semester Online ( will be the first program of its kind to offer undergraduate students the opportunity to take rigorous, small, online courses for credit from a consortium of universities. The program will be delivered through a virtual classroom environment and interactive platform developed by 2U, Inc. (, a leader in delivering selective graduate degree and undergraduate for-credit programs online.

Lee said she wanted to teach a course with this new, cutting-edge technology because it is important to her to be “in the forefront of how education is interacting with a digital future.” Advocates of Semester Online believe it will transform the current model of online education. Lee's class starts Wednesday, Aug. 28.

“I find traditional education and teaching methods on campus exciting, involving and engaging, so I wondered: ‘Is there a way to marry the future of online education with the best of what we do today?’” Lee explained. “This seemed like a way to figure that out -- as well as to learn about how other schools are doing it and how curriculum designers are thinking about it. Ultimately, it may help us discern how Northwestern University will envision the future of learning as well." 

About 20 students from Northwestern -- as well as other schools, including Boston College and Southern Methodist University -- have enrolled in the inaugural Semester Online course at Northwestern. Lee has taught online courses before but not with the new pedagogical innovations and Socratic methods included in the first Semester Online Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) course (

The course follows a format allowing both synchronous class time, during which the professor and students can see one another face to face in real time on a multi-segmented screen, and asynchronous assignments, such as lectures students far away can view on their own timetable. But it is rigorous, Lee said, requiring at least six hours a week of that combined instruction -- and the face-to-face time is just that, with students visible and interacting with the professor and one another. The six hours does not include homework assignments and readings.

“I’m a huge believer in face-to-face class time,” she said. “I engage my students and try to keep them engaged in a traditional class, but in this system it’s almost impossible for them to be distracted during class time, and they cannot do other things while we are online together.”

The online IMC course will explore key concepts and methods used to develop and execute marketing communications in both traditional mass media as well as digital and social media platforms. Primary emphasis is placed on consumer insight, branding, market segmentation and positioning, message strategy, promotion and the execution of marketing communications through appropriate media technologies.

What’s different is that Lee has spent hours preparing, presenting and videotaping the online lecture segments and guest lectures that students will be viewing as they develop an understanding of marketing communications practices through readings, lectures, case analysis and discussions. She had to be creative in developing an effective curriculum for the new technology.

Semester Online is the first-of-its-kind program offering rigorous for-credit undergraduate courses through a consortium of prestigious colleges and universities that includes Northwestern University, Boston College, Brandeis University, Emory University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.

“Students from all over the country, or even from abroad, will be able to attend these online classes in real time -- classes of about 15 to 20 students taught by professors at some of the nation’s leading universities,” Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer said.

“These courses will expand curricular options for students and will enable consortium schools to work collaboratively to develop the most innovative and successful ways to utilize new learning technologies,” Linzer said.

This summer, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University and Temple University joined Semester Online as Charter Affiliate Partners, meaning their undergraduate students will have the option of taking approved Semester Online courses for credit towards their degrees. The Affiliate program will allow more students across the nation to take courses offered by Semester Online consortium schools. In addition, qualified students from other four-year institutions outside the consortium and its partner schools also can apply to take Semester Online courses.

Lee also intends to mix and match students enrolled in the class from Northwestern and other schools to put them in groups for team activities and homework assignments and to take advantage of the diversity of schools built into the new program. Her students will be taking the class literally from coast to coast.

“I chose this course because I’m working for an agency right now, and the class title really caught my eye,” said Billy Embody of Tampa, Fla., a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas with a double major in journalism and sport management. “Once I saw the syllabus, I was sold.

“It was an opportunity to try something new, and with Northwestern being a great school -- and, specifically, a great journalism school -- it just sounded great,” he observed. “It’s just another style of teaching to enjoy. It’s going to be a great semester.”

Cindy Cao, 20, from Worcester, Mass., a nursing major at Boston College, said she decided to take the course because a friend got her interested in how marketing works and impacts people’s lives, and she wanted to learn something new and outside of her major. 

“I was advised that it would benefit me in the health field, so I decided to take the course,” Cao explained. “I wanted to do Semester Online mainly because of convenience and the experience. Not only can I access it online from wherever I want, but the idea of learning from a professor not from my own school really appealed to me.”

Cao was also impressed that Lee “tried to get to know me via email, because we weren’t really meeting in real life. That says a lot about the kind of professor she might be.”

Another student in the class is a journalism major from Medill, Briana “Nicky” Nicholson-Klingerman, a post-grad senior from Kenosha, Wis., now living in Cannon Beach, Ore. She hopes to be freelance writer and wants to start her own photography business. She also needed one more class to earn her diploma.

“I live on the West Coast now,” she said, “so taking a class at Northwestern would be inconvenient. … Online classes were just more convenient for me, and I’m very glad Northwestern is offering them.”

Initial Semester Online courses will feature primarily the same faculty and curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, with additional courses designed for the online format to be included in the future. Through a state-of-the-art virtual classroom, students will participate in discussions and exercises, attend lectures and collaborate with peers while guided by renowned professors -- engaging in as close to the on-campus class experience that is currently possible online.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, Semester Online courses are now available to academically qualified students attending consortium schools as well as other top schools across the country.


Lee is a professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, who teaches in journalism and IMC. She was recognized in 2012 as Teacher of the year by the Integrated Marketing Communications graduate students. Previously she was vice president of marketing at The Washington Post, overseeing multiple functions, from marketing to research, and originating innovative programs. She developed PostMasterClass, a series of online courses full of dynamic interaction created with experts from The Washington Post newsroom.   She earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania and her undergraduate degree at Harvard University. While studying for her masters in teaching, she worked on the effect of knowledge transfer in a world dominated by digital change.


For a look at other Semester Online courses now available at other consortium partner teaching schools, go to Northwestern students interested in enrolling in a Semester Online course should consult with their academic advisor.

Earlier this month, Semester Online announced the launch of a new mobile application of iOS and Android mobile devices. The app is now available through the Apple iTunes Store and the Google Play Store for Android Apps:

To see Northwestern’s original announcement of its participation in Semester Online, go to

Editor's Picks

Back to top