Welcome. The partners of the Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning represent the highest standard of student-centered education. Through our collaborations, we are exploring the future of teaching and learning in a networked world to support our mission as residential liberal arts institutions.
For highlights from our campuses and our collaborative work, browse the articles below or filter by category.
The sixth annual Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conference will be held Wednesday, May 17 – Thursday, May 18, 2017 at Bryn Mawr College. These conferences are a forum for faculty and staff to share resources, techniques, findings, and experiences related to blended learning.
LACOL is delighted to welcome Dr. Bryan Alexander as a special guest and speaker at the consortium-wide workshop LACOL2017 to be held June 15-16 on the campus of Vassar College. Bryan is a highly regarded and exceptionally thoughtful futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher. He focuses in particular on how technology transforms education.
At the June workshop, Bryan will share his insights and expertise in the form of presentations and informal consultation with LACOL’s working group members. A creative and experienced facilitator of liberal arts collaboration, Bryan is well known to many from his work with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) from 2002 to 2014, and more recently for his Future Trends in Technology and Education forum, among other projects.
Over fall break, a dedicated group of students and faculty at Haverford College spent three days developing their own digital stories, bringing together traditional storytelling and modern multimedia production. The experience was jointly sponsored by the President’s Office initiative on Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Academic Resources and Instructional Technology Services as a way to illuminate personal stories that reflect many campus perspectives. Each participant arrived to the workshop with at least one story that they planned to explore over the course of the workshop. Their task was to create a 3-5 minute video which featured a recorded voice-over and personally curated still imagery.
To begin, Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing Nimisha Ladva led a group discussion on various story arcs and how change agents can affect characters to ultimately provide some form of realization or epiphany. Breakout groups were formed in order to share stories and provide critical feedback. As one student reflected,
Sharing the story in groups and getting feedback were good experiences, and also were helpful to articulate my thoughts and elaborate my story. Also, I really liked the workshop’s small, relaxing community.
As the workshop progressed, Digital Media Specialist Charles Woodard and Instructional Technology Specialist Alexander Savoth guided the group as they assembled images and recorded their voice-overs using a suite of tools including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and Audacity. Images were laid into a timeline in Adobe Premiere, synched to their recorded voice-over and keyframed to add the illusion of motion. Participants shared their work and received very positive feedback in a screening held on campus three weeks following the workshop. Students also shared reflections on the experience which are detailed on Haverford’s Instructional Technology Blog.
This January, LACOL’s Quantitative Skills working group is holding a 3-day intensive workshop (also known as a hack-a-thon) to explore a shared framework for review of modules designed to strengthen students’ quantitative skills (QS) and quantitative reasoning (QR). The face-to-face event is being designed by a core team* of faculty and technologists from the QS group. The workshop will be hosted at Carleton College, with support from the Office of the President, Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, and Office of Academic Technology.
Goals for the LACOL QS hack-a-thon:
Identify aspects of existing QS/QR curricula, frameworks, and methods to be adapted as an online module/program by participating colleges. The goal for the collaboration is to enhance, not replace, local offerings.
Plan for participating campuses to pilot one of the frameworks and agree to a process for assessment and sharing results among campuses.
Document workshop outcomes and recommendations to share with colleagues across the liberal arts.
Special Guest: Jim Rolf, Shizuo Kakutani Lecturer in Mathematics and Yale University; lead for Yale Online Experiences for Yale Scholars (ONEXYS)
8-10 faculty (multi-disciplinary)
2-3 technologists, instructional designers
Throughout the year, the QS working group has been exploring ideas for a collaborative framework to curate or build online tools and resources – including metadata on related pedagogical practices – to support students with QS/QR. Earlier this year, QS group members contributed to a joint exercise informally titled “What do we mean by quantitative skills?” to generate a shared list of key skills across the quantitative disciplines that students will need to have or acquire early in their academic careers. This common skills list provides input into strategies for helping students identify and close gaps. (more…)
To advance their shared inquiries, AER is launching two initiatives this year: a multi-campus survey on the teaching of reading, to be followed by a thought piece that reflects on reading-related challenges and opportunities for liberal arts educators and students. A team of faculty, librarians and technologist from member campuses will collaborate on both projects, with coordination from AER’s co-leads, Ron Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Vassar College (pictured at right) and hari stephen kumar, Instructional Designer and Associate Director of the Learning Collaborative at Amherst College. (See a talk from kumar at LACOL2016.)
Multi-campus survey of teaching practices for reading across the curriculum
Throughout the liberal arts curriculum, there are numerous ways, old and new, that reading skills and related habits of mind are taught. To help document emerging pedagogies for reading, AER is embarking on an survey of selected faculty and staff across the disciplines at our member institutions. The survey questions and methodology are being developed jointly with input from the Institutional and Educational Research offices of participating colleges.
Debrief on Carleton’s CUBE pilot (online summer bridge program for quantitative skills)
On October 19, LACOL held a webinar with special guests Melissa Eblen-Zayas and Janet Russell from Carleton College. In this one-hour session, Melissa and Janet shared their experiences running the first iteration ofthe ‘Carleton Undergraduate Bridge Experience’ or CUBE, a new online summer bridge program designed to support entering students with quantitative skills and reasoning. Carleton’s creative approach to developing CUBE riveted the audience at the June LACOL workshop as the pilot was just getting underway. Now in this “debrief” session, you can hear all about what went into running the program in the first round, how students responded, and the lessons that were learned. The meeting was held in Zoom with ample opportunity for Q&A and discussion. Contact Liz Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Melissa Eblen-Zayas, Associate Professor of Physics and Director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, Carleton College
Janet Russell, Director of Academic Technology, Carleton College
In May 2017, LACOL’s Language Instruction working group will hold a 4-day intensive workshop (also known as a hack-a-thon) to prototype a shared diagnostic and refresher framework. The face-to-face event is being organized by Mike Jones, Director of the Language Resource Center and Media Lab at Swarthmore College, guided by a core team of faculty and language technologists at the participating institutions.
Goals for the LACOL Language Instruction hack-a-thon:
1. Explore development of shared diagnostic and bridge/refresher framework for language instruction that could support students in identifying and closing gaps in knowledge and skills.
2. Engage faculty as content creators, working with professional staff and students for technical support and data input. Outside expert(s) will also advise.
3. Build prototypes of a diagnostic test and refresher module; these could serve as models for further development of online testing and teaching materials for sharing across the Consortium.
4. Document workshop outcomes and recommendations for continued collaboration.
In September 2016, a team of mathematics faculty, technologists and instructional designers from six leading liberal arts colleges (LACOL member schools Amherst, Haverford, Pomona, Swarthmore, Vassar and Williams) are launching a new collaboration to explore blended course sharing for select topics in advanced mathematics. The goal of the project is to experiment with models for shared course delivery which can supplement residential classroom learning and expand curricular offerings for math majors. Inspired by some independent experimentation and brainstorming between faculty team leads, Assoc. Prof. Steven Miller at Williams College (pictured above) and Assoc. Prof. Stephan Ramon Garcia (pictured at right), a group of six mathematicians from across LACOL began talking about possibilities for a multi-campus collaboration in early 2016. These conversations eventually led to a full project proposal which gained strong support from LACOL’s Faculty and Administrative Advisory Councils. The project was officially approved in July 2016 as a two-phased initiative. In the first phase (academic year 2016/2017), a feasibility study is planned which will execute several experiments and “proofs of concept” involving online/blended course elements such as lecture capture, online coaching and problem solving sessions (synchronous and asynchronous) and peer mentoring. With support from the multi-campus project team, these efforts will be spearheaded by Miller at Williams College in connection with his Spring 2017 ‘Problem Solving’ course. In phase two (academic year 2017/2018), findings from phase one will be brought to bear in a pilot course offering, ‘Real and Functional Analysis’, taught by Garcia. In a fully realized vision, the course would be offered both face to face at Pomona, and also opened virtually to interested students at all LACOL campuses. Local faculty and support contacts at each campus would help ensure students experience the best aspects of on-campus and on-line liberal arts learning.
Since mathematics faculty at all LACOL schools already teach a variety of advanced topics, this project will investigate how online/blended sharing may expand access to a richer array of options to meet student interests. Miller notes:
While liberal arts colleges excel in engaged faculty and personal interactions with students, we do not always have the course offerings available at larger institutions with graduate programs. Though often our students are ready for such classes, at each institution there are practical limits to offering them every year. Our goal is to increase the wealth and frequency of the advanced classes our students need, both for graduate study and to delve deeply in the subject.
Launch of the ‘Upper Level Math’ project has stirred excitement across the Consortium. The math team’s work is seen as an opportunity to collaboratively experiment with emerging online/blended pedagogies that might be useful in a variety of disciplines. It is also a chance for the schools to explore related policy issues of faculty and student credit in the context of online/blended course delivery and consortial partnerships. In considering these issues, the team will draw on experiences from peer institutions and other consortia who have been investigating these new models in a variety of ways. Swarthmore College Professor of Cell Biology Liz Vallen, who evaluated the project in-depth as a member of LACOL’s Faculty Advisory Council, commented:
This [project] seems exactly aligned with LACOL’s goals as it is leveraging the consortium to increase course offerings and availability at partner institutions. The other big benefit of this work is that it is a concrete example that will be a great pilot experiment to see if this is something feasible and beneficial within the LACOL framework.
I learned about The Early Novels Database when my English professor, Emily Vasiliauskas, told me about a joint END/LACOL effort to include more undergraduate students through summer internships. The project offered a unique combination of scholarly research available to undergraduates in the humanities with an introduction to a rapidly emerging sector of my own field I knew very little about. Throughout the summer, I worked with peers and mentors from Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library, Haverford College, and the Tri-College Digital Humanities initiative to gather metadata on early English novels. The experience acquainted me with the breadth and depth of works beyond the traditional literary canon. It also provided me with a rare opportunity to learn unfamiliar skills in the digital humanities in the context of my own discipline.
The daily routine of paging through dozens of never before cataloged early modern novels might seem repetitive on the surface. In practice it acquainted me with a new way of close reading distinct from what I was accustomed to in my academic courses. I learned about preservation and handling techniques essential to maintaining special collections and preserving aging works. I became fascinated with the question of the book as object. Specifically, I was interested in books which had been physically torn, annotated, or stitched together, and books which comprised edited compilations of other works. One of the most interesting examples of alteration to the book as object is the popular 18th century practice of binding together periodicals received over a subscription period to form one larger volume. Certainly, there is a sense of continuity or comprehensiveness, even status, that comes with a complete set of matching volumes, a gilt-edged collection of encyclopedias. I wonder whether at least a portion of the appeal of this completeness might have been the pretense of omniscience, or appearance of omniscience, it conferred on the owner.
At one time, owning a complete set of encyclopedias might have connoted possession of nearly all officially recorded, general knowledge—a possession that, in the digital age, is simultaneously impossible in physical form as information is constantly generated, and accessible to everyone via the Internet.
The practice of interacting constantly with dozens of rare books gave rise to my final project, Imagined Distance: Visualizing Place and Space in Faux Epistolary Travel Novels. I had the opportunity to peruse a variety of epistolary novels. Many of the characters wrote to one another across divides of cultural and physical geography, age, gender, and class background. My project focused on how epistolary novels ignore, honor, or attempt to collapse those distances: geographical, emotional, or even spiritual. I sought to contrast and quantitate, when or if possible, the various types of distances in a novel as the author conceived of them with the distances I could map through various digital tools that use a standard Mercator projection. I used a corpus of literature that eventually organized itself around a particular subgenre, one both oddly specific and widely published in the 18th century.
This genre, faux epistolary travel fiction, emerged as a way for Europeans to read about the adventures of primarily non-white travelers–except those travelers were actually white British writers impersonating people of color.
What I found so interesting, even alarming, about the faux travel fiction trend in particular is that it creates and then purports to collapse a fictional distance from the dominant culture that the writer does not actually have to negotiate in the first place.
I used the intentionally blunt tool of mapping out locations I noted in the novels, noticing which details fell off the page. I was particularly interested in those distances that defied my attempts at modelling. After completing close readings, I used the Stanford Name Entity Recognizer tool to identify locations in the novels I’d selected. I created in Google My Maps a map of each of the novels, with their geographical references displayed on a standard Mercator projection map, and I used Google Fusion Tables as a further tool for exploration. I brought together my newfound facility with digital tools and my love for geography in literature in a final public presentation supported by faculty and my peers. Examples of the maps I created can be found at the top of this post and below.
At the June LACOL workshop, Swarthmore Classics Professor William Turpin gave a presentation during the Adaptive Learning breakout on his investigations into various digital tools to support students with learning and practice of Latin and Greek. As shown in the short slideshow below, Turpin is experimenting with platforms such as Fluenz and Smart Sparrow which offer a variety of modes for presenting interactive content and adaptive drills to students.
Alongside presentations from two other speakers in the session, Turpin’s experiments sparked a robust Q&A on the useful applications for supporting student learning through adaptive tools, and also concerns regarding data and content portability when considering the use of proprietary software. It is clear that the promises and potential pitfalls of adaptive learning for the liberal arts will remain a keen focus of interest for the Consortium.
Slides (no audio) from William Turpin’s investigations into adaptive tools for Latin learning.
At the June LACOL workshop, Associate Professor of Chemistry Casey Londergan demonstrated his techniques for flipping the chemistry classroom as part of a multi-disciplinary panel on faculty and student experiences with online, blended and active learning.
In a Physical Chemistry class primarily for juniors, Londergan and his colleague Joshua Schrier have experimented with a mixture of just-in-time and active learning techniques with their students in order to maximize the use of class time for problem solving work. Content delivery through readings and videos happens mostly through the LMS so more active learning can happen in the classroom. Modular videos allow students to re-watch sections of the lecture. Pre-class questions in the LMS also help Londergan adjust each class to focus on the areas where students have the most questions.
For students, the active classroom learning design pushes them to focus and improve in the most challenging areas. Using a tablet and stylus linked wirelessly to the projector, Londergan is free to move around the class and help individual students and groups get “unstuck” as they work on problems together.
Prof. Casey Londergan demonstrates his flipped chemistry classroom at Haverford.
At the LACOL workshop in June, classicist Chico Zimmerman from Carleton College shared a short plenary talk entitled, “Toward a better Latin placement test”, also known as, “A Tale of Two Arcadian Friends, a Homocidal Innkeeper, and a Pile of Manure.”
In their teaching, faculty strive to meet students where they are, but often must ask, where exactly ARE they? For incoming students at Carleton, the Classics department found that their Latin placement test was not giving enough granular diagnostic information, especially for less experienced students. To address this need, Zimmerman and his colleages are investigating a variety of adaptive tools and platforms with the potential to help them better understand and guide their students at the appropriate level.
In the video clip below, Zimmerman shares details on Carleton’s experiments thus far with Moodle, Assistments, Smart Sparrow, and other tools. Similar themes of adaptive and digitally-enhanced support for language instruction and other disciplines were explored in sessions throughout the two-day workshop program.
Chico Zimmerman explores tools for better language placement at the LACOL workshop.
At the June LACOL workshop, Ben Ho, a behavioral economist and faculty member at Vassar College, presents several ways that online games inspire his students to learn through modeling of real data in the classroom. New pedagogies in the field of economics allow for a more experimental approaches that can lead to deeper understanding. For example, participatory games and simulations that use student-generated can add an emotional component that enriches some of the traditional and more mathematically-based modeling techniques.
Ho particularly likes a web-based software platform called MobLab that can be used on a smartphone which most students have in their pockets. This makes it easy to incorporate the online games with learning in the classroom. Watch the short video below for more details from Prof. Ho on the power of games for teaching and learning.
Video: Behavioral economist Ben Ho presents at LACOL 2016
In Saturday’s plenary session at the 2016 LACOL workshop, Instructional Designer hari stephen kumar from Amherst College illuminated a key workshop theme: what are new pedagogical frameworks that can help us integrate place-based and digital learning in positive ways for the liberal arts? Kumar explores three emerging practices which can transform the learning and teaching in small residential liberal arts settings:
• deep(er) learning as a disruptive liberal art
• threshold concepts and limnal learning
• inclusive pedagogies
Kumar goes on to consider other high-impact practices and emerging ideas in pedagogy that have the potential for reshaping liberal arts education to better serve a wider population and to tackle complex global challenges. Watch the video and download the linked slides from hari’s presentation below.
Video: hari stephen kumar plenary talk June 17th at the LACOL workshop
Faculty have started exploring Apple’s new IPad Pro and its companion Pencil for teaching, presenting, grading and even classroom activities. Initially prompted by a faculty member in Swarthmore’s French section, Technologist Alexander Savoth has been exploring various ways to incorporate these new technologies into the classroom. The following video is a brief screencast, which highlights three particularly useful apps. This screencast was created for the tech lightning round at 2016 LACOL workshop in June.
Screencast demo of three teaching tools: Notability, Zen Brush and MyScript Memo.