Welcome. The partner colleges 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 colleges.
For highlights from our campuses and our collaborative work, browse the articles below or filter by category.
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.
A major highlight of Saturday’s plenary session at the June LACOL workshop was a presentation from Carleton College on their new online/hybrid bridge program called ‘Carleton Undergraduate Bridge Experience’ or CUBE. Associate Dean and Professor of English George Shuffelton opened the session with some background on the motivations for designing the new program to support incoming students with their quantitative skills and reasoning which pilots this summer. Director of Academic Technology Janet Russell has worked closely with the program’s director, Physicist Melissa Eblen-Zayas, and the Carleton IT team to guide the learning design for the first cohort of ~24 students. Janet described various elements of the program, including on-campus and online mentoring, videos and connections through social media. Workshop participants, especially those involved with the Quantitative Skills working group, applauded this excellent presentation and are excited to learn from Carleton’s initial experiences this summer. The QS group is exploring various ways the colleges might collaborate to support students with quantitative skills and reasoning as they arrive on campus and progress with their studies.
Carleton’s G. Shuffelton and J. Russell share a look at the CUBE for QS/QR.
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.
Vassar College hosted its first DataFest, an American Statistical Association sponsored weekend-long data analysis competition from Friday April 8 to Sunday April 10, 2016. Student response was enthusiastic; approximately 40 students (9 teams) representing 9 different single majors and 6 different double major combinations participated in DataFest. Generous support was provided by Vassar administrative offices and academic departments across disciplines, as well as external companies.
On Friday evening, the large and messy datasets from Ticketmaster were revealed to the students in a kick-off event. Over the next 48 hours, each team developed their own research question and worked together to analyze and gain insights into the data. Throughout the weekend, over a dozen Vassar faculty members and professionals from the Poughkeepsie area volunteered as consultants. On Sunday afternoon, each team presented their findings to the other teams and a panel of volunteer judges.
The weekend involved challenging and multi-dimensional problem solving. Students faced such questions as, How to formulate an appropriate research question? Can a subset of variables in the dataset answer the research question? How to best visualize the data? Do we need any external sources to complement our analysis, and if so, can we access them? What are the best statistical methods to tackle the question? How to implement the chosen methods on a large dataset using statistical software? What key messages to conclude from our findings? How to most effectively communicate our findings to a judge panel and other participants, in 15 minutes? How to work with others with different skill sets and background? How to best utilize the strengths of all team members? How to work under time pressure and make compromises, if necessary?
Overall, participating in DataFest involved scientific reasoning, critical thinking, teamwork, communication and more. Such an experience is valuable for students in any stage of their academic career.
The Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning (LACOL) hosted a Consortium-wide workshop on June 17-18, 2016 on the campus of Haverford College. Browse the posts on this page for details on the program, videos and workshop resources.
1. The Consortium as incubator for learning research and effective pedagogies
2. Student perspectives on digital approaches and online/blended learning
3. From high school to college; preparing and supporting our students
4. Techniques and tools for collaboration, how can we work together?
5. LACOL working groups – team meetings and presentations
World-renowned open learning pioneer Dr. Candace M. Thille (Stanford University) delivered a captivating keynote address on the campus of Haverford College on Saturday, June 18th. This talk was a major highlight on the program of LACOL2016, a two-day, consortium-wide workshop organized by the Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning. In her remarks, Dr. Thille shared thoughtful and provocative commentary on the opportunities and risks ahead as we move further into the blended, digital future of teaching and learning for the liberal arts. She invited faculty, staff and students at small liberal arts colleges to engage and contribute to shaping a more positive, open and transparent future.
Speaker: Dr. Candace Thille, Stanford University Keynote Talk: The Science of Learning, Technology, and Student Success in Liberal Education Date: Saturday, June 18th Time: 11:30am-12:30pm Location: Stokes Auditorium on the campus of Haverford College
Candace Thille Keynote, “The Science of Learning, Technology, and Student Success in Liberal Education” LACOL 2016, June 18, 2016 at Haverford College
Q&A with Candace Thille: algorithms, feedback and measuring the unmeasurable
On April 27th, five expert panelists from across the Consortium gathered online with an audience of faculty, technologists, and campus administrators for a discussion entitled, “Learning Data. What do we know? What do we want to know?” The session began with some thought-provoking remarks from the panelists, followed by two case studies, leading into free flowing conversation around several themes noted below in the video highlights.
The goal of this online conversation was to set a broad frame for faculty perspectives on learning data as it is useful in guiding teaching and student success in the liberal arts. As indicated by audience feedback, this area has rich possibilities for exploration and potential collaboration as a Consortium. We will be looking for opportunities to foster further conversation and collaborative investigation on specific aspects of this important topic.
Video Gallery – Online Panel
The who of learning data for the liberal arts.
• Dr. Audrey Bilger, Professor of Literature and Faculty Director of the Center for Writing & Public Discourse, Claremont McKenna College; incoming Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Pomona College
Levels of data that may inform teaching practice and institutional structures.
• Dr. Catherine Crouch, Associate Professor of Physics, Swarthmore College
How can liberal arts colleges collaborate on data that guide teaching and learning?
Following discussions and collaborations mostly via Zoom in the fall of 2015, Mark Andrews, Baynard Bailey, Thomas Parker of Vassar College and Virginie Pouzet-Duzer of Pomona College are looking for new LACOL partners who would be interested in adding a digital storytelling element to their fourth semester French classroom.
French Digital Storybook created by Vassar students Rafaela Vega del Castillo, Rose Clarfeld & David Sparks.
The current project started at Vassar College when Susan Hiner (Dept. French and Francophone Studies) received a grant to create a course for teaching intermediate French based on authentic French and Francophone story books.
The premise is that during the semester students learn French in the same way a Francophone child would through authenticate cultural material. During the semester, students “grow up,” beginning with illustrated nursery rhymes, songs, fairy tales, myths, and fables then short stories, bandes dessinées, animated movies, and concluding with adolescent literature.
Attached to these texts, the course proposes grammar and writing exercises combined with interpretative and creative exercises, all launched through a digital platform. Most importantly, the course features a student-authored semester-long storybook that students write, illustrate, animate, and narrate in French on a digital platform.
The course has been through several iterations as part of a collaborative effort in Vassar’s FFS department, primarily between Susan Hiner, Mark Andrews, and myself, Thomas Parker, with the active involvement of a succession of French Language Fellows (visiting French assistants). We have been having much success with students who adore the creative element of the course (the book writing), the strong visual emphasis and engaging content of the authentic source material (children’s books), and the different elements and non-traditional pedagogical strategies it provides.
For the technology aspect, we’ve worked closely an instructional technologist – Baynard Bailey. He works with the students to help them to construct their storybooks in Final Cut Pro X. Most students make illustrations by hand, scan them and then import the images into their digital books. Students then record their voiceovers, adding sound effects, music and animation to complement their stories. The videos are exported and uploaded to YouTube, and the scripts go into the closed captions. We’ve refined the process over the years and the evolution of the student work can be seen at http://pages.vassar.edu/ffs-digital-storytelling.
Now we are seeking partners and support to improve the course with colleagues. Our first partner is Virginie Pouzet-Duzer at Pomona College. In the fall of 2016, she is planning to incorporate several features from our version of French 206 into her French 44. She is going to keep the focus on fairy tales, but her syllabus partially let go of the texts originally aimed at a younger audience. Also, she is planning on adding a remote presentation of the final projects, having students from Pomona and Vassar share with each others using Skype or Zoom. (more…)