From Blended Learning to Digital Pedagogies in the Liberal Arts?

LACOL 2017 Session 7: From Blended Learning to Digital Pedagogies in the Liberal Arts?
Presenter: Jennifer Spohrer, Manager of Educational Technology Services, Bryn Mawr College
Date & Location: June 16 at Vassar College

6OwLaEI4When Bryn Mawr College first proposed experimenting with “blended learning in the liberal arts” back in 2011, we conceptualized it as a combination of “traditional,” face-to-face, liberal arts instruction and online tutorials that assessed and gave students feedback on learning. However, in the initial calls for proposals, it became quickly apparent that liberal arts college faculty were incorporating other types of digital technologies into their teaching, and doing so ways we had not anticipated. This presentation surveys the digitally enabled teaching approaches that have been included under the “blended learning” umbrella since 2011 and identifies “digital pedagogies” that might connect them.

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Welcome to Q-bits!

This blog channel is your gateway to Q-bits, online modules designed by our faculty to support students with quantitative skills and reasoning across the disciplines.  In the posts below, you can find information and links to each Q-bit that is hosted in your campuses learning management system (LMS) for easy access.

⇒ Students, please leave us a comment about your experience using any of the Q-bits in the posts below.  We invite your suggestions on how to improve current modules, or what other topics might be useful to you!

⇒ Faculty, for more information about using Q-bits with your students, we invite you to watch this short video: Q-bits Tutorial.

Q-bits available in Fall 2017:

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Hack-a-thon Toward a Collaborative Language Diagnostics and Refresher Framework

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In May 2017, LACOL’s Language Instruction working group held a 3-day intensive workshop (also known as a hack­-a­-thon) to prototype a shared online diagnostic and refresher framework. The face-to-face event was 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.

Workshop Program: click here

Workshop Report: click here

Special Guest:
Christopher M. Jones
Teaching Professor of French and Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Carnegie Mellon University
Dr. Chris Jones, CMU
Dr. C. Jones, CMU

Christopher M. Jones is Interim Head and Teaching Professor of French and Computer-Assisted Language Learning in the Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University. He was Director of the Modern Language Resource Center from 1993 to 2016 and founder and Director of the Masters in Applied Second Language Acquisition from 2010 to 2016. He has spoken, published and consulted widely in the area of technology-enhanced language learning. His materials development experience includes textbook authoring, CD-ROM design and programming, and on-line courseware creation in French, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. He was a participant in the interdisciplinary Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center and continues to be an active member of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon.

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.
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 results and recommendations for continued collaboration.

Background and Rationale:

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Social Annotation with Stanford’s Lacuna (meet up/demo)

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Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 3.32.52 PMOn Monday, June 19th, join the Active & Engaged Reading and Effective Teaching & Learning working groups for an online meetup and discussion of Lacuna, a platform for digital annotation and social and collaborative reading developed at the Poetic Media Lab in the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford.

Several academic reading groups at Stanford and beyond are using Lacuna for collaborative reading and annotation.  The development team is working on release version 3.0 which will include a more robust analytics dashboard for readers to reflect on what kinds of critical thinking are represented in their annotations.  Join this meeting to learn more about the pedagogies and digital tools for reading.

Event: Web conference in Zoom
Title: Lacuna Conversation and Demo with Brian Johnsrud & Amir Eshel from the Stanford Poetic Media Lab
Audience: All LACOL members are welcome
Date: Monday, June 19
Time: 3:30-5pm Eastern

For details on how to join the web conference, contact Liz Evans

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A new LACOL collaboration will develop Qbits to support students with quantitative skills and reasoning

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M. Eblen-Zayas
Above: Physicist M. Eblen-Zayas, Carleton College

Top: Mathematician M. Stoicu, Williams College at the 2017 QS Hackathon

To assist our students with readiness for their quantitative work across the curriculum, LACOL’s Quantitative Skills working group is launching a multi-campus initiative, nicknamed QLAB. Through this collaboration, faculty and technologists are teaming up to build a shared framework for curating, implementing and assessing instructional modules for quantitative skills (QS) and quantitative reasoning (QR). The strategy draws on a body of research in higher education and experience at our institutions showing that online modules can be a beneficial component of an overall QS/QR support program.

According to project co-lead Melissa Eblen-Zayas, Associate Professor of Physics and Director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, Carleton College:

The QLAB project addresses a challenge that many of us are facing — we want all students to be successful regardless of their high school math preparation. Currently, each faculty member teaching a course that makes use of basic quantitative skills (QS) must find ways to support students with weak QS preparation. Rather than having faculty members develop all of their own support resources, this project will develop shared online modules – Qbits – that can be deployed for just-in-time review and skill-building in a number of disciplines.

Developing online resources that can be used in multiple contexts to help students strengthen their quantitative skills serves two purposes. First, by showing how these skills are relevant in various disciplinary contexts, students learn to view quantitative skills as fundamental and transferable skills that they can draw on in many areas of their liberal arts experience. Second, as a consortial effort, we will have more students using these modules in a variety of contexts so that we can collect meaningful data about the effectiveness of the various modules, and improve them accordingly.

Groundwork for the project was laid during the QS Framework Hack-a-thon held at Carleton College in January 2017.  At that workshop, faculty and technologists created module prototypes and explored research questions based on the common needs and challenges the partner schools experience as small, residential liberal arts institutions.

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Sharing Courses in Self-Instructional Language Programs through Online Conversation


In an increasingly globalized world, students are seeking ways to learn languages that are not commonly taught at schools in the United States. While self-instructional language programs (SILP) afford many opportunities to explore lesser-taught languages like Hindi, Korean, or Swahili, the scope of each program is limited. A new online collaboration will allow each program to tap into resources that other colleges in the consortium have, e.g. native speakers in the community that can serve as tutors, or advanced level instruction in certain languages. Students will have additional opportunities to explore new paths within their liberal arts education.

Many of the colleges within the consortium offer some form of guided self-instruction of lesser-taught languages already. The new LACOL project will launch a collaboration between the Self-Instructional Language Programs at Pomona, Vassar, and Williams College, using online synchronous classroom-to-classroom interaction. As Lioba Gerhardi, Vassar’s Coordinator of the Self-Instructional Language Program and Adjunct Assistant Professor of German Studies says:

By sharing resources, the partners will be able to increase the number of self-instructional languages available to students in an innovative and cost-effective manner.

The self-instructional component of each language course will remain unchanged. Each student will enroll for the course at their home institution. For speaking and listening practice, students will join conversational tutorial sessions at a partnering college via video conferencing software, such as Zoom.


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On the Math Fundamentals Program: QS meet-up April 7

On April 7, LACOL QS members are cordially invited to join a one-hour web conference with the leads of the Math Fundamentals (FIPSE) Program, Faculty PI and Professor of Physics Elizabeth McCormack and project management lead Jennifer Spohrer, Manager of Educational Technology Services, both at Bryn Mawr College.

Math Fundamentals is a multi-year, multi-campus initiative investigating the use of blended, just-in-time “sandwich” modules for math review in STEM. The research partners (including LACOL members Bryn Mawr College and Vassar College) are currently field testing several faculty-authored modules in calculus, chemistry and physics. (more…)

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Active and Engaged Reading – Survey on practices for teaching reading across the disciplines


UPDATE: Findings from the reading survey will be shared by Profs. Ron Patkus and Susan Zlotnick at the 2017 consortium-wide workshop at Vassar College.

Project Background: Throughout the liberal arts curriculum, there are numerous ways, old and new, that reading skills and related habits of mind are taught.  A rapidly evolving technology landscape is also shaping the student experience. To help document emerging pedagogies for reading, LACOL’s Active and Engaged Reading working group is embarking on an survey of faculty and academic staff across the disciplines at our member institutions. The survey tool was developed jointly by the AER project team with guidance from the Institutional and Educational Research offices of participating colleges.

The purpose of the survey is to gather insights into how our faculty cultivate various reading skills and practices for students at all levels of the curriculum, with a particular focus on the digital dimension.  Results of this survey will be used to inform Active and Engaged Reading working group projects, including a collaborative thought piece on reading for the liberal arts in a digital age.

Instructions: The survey consists of several short answer questions and may take 15-30 minutes to complete, depending on the level of detail you can share.  Your input is invaluable to the project.  Thank you for your time!




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LACOL Hack-a-thon Toward a Collaborative Quantitative Skills Support Framework


See also: QLAB project launch

This January, LACOL’s Quantitative Skills working group held a 3­-day intensive workshop (also known as a hack­-a­-thon) to explore a shared framework for review of online modules designed to strengthen students’ quantitative skills (QS) and quantitative reasoning (QR). The face-to-face event was designed by a core team of faculty and technologists from the QS group.  The workshop was hosted at Carleton College, with support from the Office of the President, Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, and Office of Academic Technology.

Click for the Slideshow
Click for the Slideshow

Goals for the LACOL QS hack-a-thon:

  1. 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.
  2. Plan for participating campuses to pilot one of the frameworks and agree to a process for assessment and sharing results among campuses.
  3. Document workshop outcomes and recommendations to share with colleagues across the liberal arts.

Location: Carleton College

Dates: Jan 9-11, 2017 (live blogging)

Workshop Outline: click here

Special Guest: Jim Rolf, Shizuo Kakutani Lecturer in Mathematics at Yale University; lead for Yale Online Experiences for Yale Scholars (ONEXYS)

Workshop Participants: list


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.

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Live from the LACOL QS Hack-a-thon at Carleton College (Jan 9-11)

Welcome! Here is a slideshow and live tweets from the #LACOLQS hack-a-thon, Jan 9-11 on the campus of Carleton College.

Colleagues with wide-ranging expertise and disciplinary interests from seven LACOL schools spent three days sharing, working and learning side-by-side at the hack-a-thon. Together, the team developed an initial draft and prototypes of a collaborative framework for creating/curating and evaluating online QS/QR modules that can boost students success and improve access. With inspiration from special guest Jim Rolf from Yale ONEXYS, we delved deeply into collaborative strategies for design, implementation and measuring effectiveness. A grand time was had by all … and more to come! (Read more about the project.)

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Try some other hashtag or username

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Language Instruction: brainstorm on language placement, diagnostics and refreshers

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As a preview and prelude to LACOL’s “Language Instruction Hack-a-thon” next May at Swarthmore College (, you are cordially invited to join a team meeting on Monday, December 12, 2016. This session is particular relevant for faculty and technologists with an interest in language placement/diagnostics and refreshers, and especially anyone who is curious to know more about plans for the hack-a-thon. 

Meeting: LACOL Language Instruction: pre-hack-a-thon brainstorm on language placement, diagnostics and refreshers

Special Guest Speakers: 

  • Chico Zimmerman, Professor of Classics, Carleton College
  • Clara Hardy, Professor of Classics, Carleton College

Session Agenda:

  • To launch the conversation, Professors Zimmerman and Hardy from Carleton College will share an update on their Latin placement project. Throughout the summer and fall, they have been designing a more effective placement test for Latin and exploring a number of web-based tools/platforms for delivery – see:  Thought focused on Latin content, their work provides excellent food for thought with broad relevance to diagnostics and refreshers for modern languages as well.
  • The remainder of the session will focus on plans for the hack-a-thon. What are the shared goals?  What pre-work can help to lay a solid foundation?  What kinds of productive “hands on” work can faculty and technologist do together in person in May?  
  • A small group of faculty has done some brainstorming about the hack-a-thon already.  We will share initial ideas and build from there.

Dec 12 Meeting Minutes:

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Testing interactive online learning modules for STEM

Blended modules cover topics such as trigonometry and statistics.

Starting in the fall of 2016, faculty at Bryn Mawr and seven partner liberal arts colleges (including LACOL member Vassar College) are field-testing faculty-authored online learning modules they have developed and refined over the past two years as part of the Blended, Just-in-Time Math Fundamentals program. Led by Bryn Mawr professor of physics, Elizabeth McCormack, the Math Fundamentals program tackles math review for students enrolled in introductory STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses. It is designed as a scalable, affordable method for helping students who are interested in STEM fields and generally college-ready in math, but who have areas of weakness or lack experience with applied mathematics, to build skills and confidence needed to thrive in introductory STEM courses.

For example, a student taking introductory physics will need to draw on trigonometry in order to solve certain types of vector problems. While most students encounter trigonometry at some point in high school math courses, the timing, breadth and depth of that exposure can vary considerably. To help these students, physics, chemistry and calculus professors at Allegheny, Bryn Mawr, Franklin & Marshall, Grinnell, Lafayette, Mills, Smith, St. Olaf, and Vassar colleges have worked with instructional designers to develop a “sandwich” approach to math review. Each module starts with a worked example of a canonical course problem — such as resolving vectors in introductory physics. This example identifies the fundamental math skills needed to solve the problem and provides links to online, interactive self-assessment and practice resources. According to the project manager Jennifer Spohrer, Manager of Educational Technology Services at Bryn Mawr:

These resources give students individualized feedback on their mastery of math fundamentals. Meanwhile, faculty, academic support staff, and peer tutors can review students’ work to provide additional assistance to those who need it. Students then solve a “do-it-yourself” version of the original problem to practice applying those skills in context.


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Webinar: Carleton Cube Debrief (October 19)


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 of the ‘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 ( for more information.

Special Guests:

  • 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

Related Resources:


Wednesday, Oct 19


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Active and Engaged Reading – kicking off two projects for 2016/2017

Ron Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections and Adjunct Associate Professor of History. Taken for the Vassar Quarterly (VQ) Winter 2015 story "Distracted Reading in the Digital Age," December 2015
Ron Patkus, Vassar College

LACOL’s Active and Engaged Reading (AER) working group focuses on issues of reading in a digital age, including the goals and practices for academic reading as they evolve on our campuses.

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.

Active & Engage Reading Survey:


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Project Summary: Language Skills Map & Diagnostic Dashboard

Faculty and Technologists from the Language Instruction Working Group are working toward  a Collaborative Language Diagnostics and Refresher Framework, including a visual dashboard to help faculty and students efficiently assess language proficiencies.

Two recent workshop (see below) have recently made concrete steps toward realizing the framework, and additional steps are planned for spring 2018.  For more information, contact Mike Jones, ( or Carly Born (

Related Posts:

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Project Summary: Course Sharing for Self-Instructional Language Programs (SILP)

Many of the colleges within the consortium offer some form of guided self-instruction of lesser-taught languages already. This LACOL project is a collaboration between the Self-Instructional Language Programs at Pomona, Vassar, and Williams College, using online synchronous classroom-to-classroom interaction.

Related Posts:

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