Exploration of Blended Course Offerings for Upper Level Mathematics

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Prof. Stephan Garcia, Pomona College
Assoc. Prof. Stephan Garcia, Pomona College, co-lead of the LACOL ‘Upper Level Math’ project
(with Assoc. Prof. Steven Miller of Williams College, pictured above)

Steven Miller’s talk at LACOL 2017: http://lacol.net/shared-math/
Update on Phase II: http://lacol.net/hu-garcia-math-stats-pilots

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.

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Emerging Pedagogies for the 21st Century – plenary talk from hari stephen kumar

hari stephen kumar from Amherst College
hari stephen kumar from Amherst College

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

DOWNLOAD: H. Kumar LACOL Plenary Slides


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Discipline​ ‐ An Immersive, Distraction‐free Virtual Reading Environment at Amherst College

Discipline environment - lakeside porch

Over the past decade, academics (students and faculty alike) have been doing more and more of their reading on screens— monitors, tablets, and even smartphones. With the increased convenience of electronic documents, however, have come a number of costs. The ergonomics of reading from a vertical monitor are less than ideal, as is the visual experience of reading a backlit screen. And, of course, with computers come distractions: your smart phone buzzes an incoming text, your email pops up an incoming message, Facebook beckons to you with a only few keyboard strokes away. All in all, the shift to electronic documents poses serious challenges to the kind of serious, long‐form reading that is the lifeblood of the academy.

Discipline environment - quiet study with fire
Discipline environment – quiet study with fire

The Discipline project was conceived by Amherst College Associate Professor of Religion Andrew Dole as a way of mitigating these problems by moving the reading of electronic documents to the ‘final compute platform’, virtual reality. Discipline is a set of immersive, distraction‐free environments in which texts are displayed in the form of virtual pages, books, or other artifacts. Discipline focuses the user on the task at hand by providing aesthetically pleasing environments and eliminating distractions. Imagine sitting alone in a grand library reading room. Gold leaf volumes line wooden bookshelves while sunlight streams through stained glass windows onto the leather‐topped mahogany table before you, on which lies an ancient illuminated manuscript. Or imagine sitting on a porch in Maine in late summer with the sunlight glinting off a lake, the only sounds the rhythmic breaking of the waves and a gentle breeze rustling the pines. Or imagine a leather wing chair in a wood‐paneled study, with dancing shadows cast by a fire crackling in the hearth, a grandfather clock softly ticking behind you. These are your working environments when you enter the Discipline project.
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About Amherst College

Amherst_CollegeSince its founding in 1821, Amherst College has become one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the nation, enrolling some 1,800 talented, energetic and diverse young men and women. This section of the site provides a general introduction to the college.

Amherst College is located in Amherst, Massachusetts, a town of 35,000 people in the western part of the state. The college’s 1,000-acre campus is adjacent to downtown Amherst.

Amherst College educates men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.

Amherst brings together the most promising students, whatever their financial need, in order to promote diversity of experience and ideas within a purposefully small residential community. Working with faculty, staff, and administrators dedicated to intellectual freedom and the highest standards of instruction in the liberal arts, Amherst undergraduates assume substantial responsibility for undertaking inquiry and for shaping their education within and beyond the curriculum.

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