About Williams College

Williams COllegeEstablished in 1793 with funds bequeathed by Colonel Ephraim Williams, the college is private, residential, and liberal arts, with graduate programs in the history of art and in development economics. The undergraduate enrollment is approximately 2,000 students.

The student-faculty ratio is 7:1.

Williams admits U.S. students without regard to their ability to pay. The college meets 100 percent of every admitted student’s demonstrated financial need for four years. More than half of all Williams students receive financial aid from the college.

There are three academic divisions (languages and the arts, social sciences, and science and mathematics) that encompass 25 departments, 36 majors, and several concentrations and special programs. The academic year consists of two four-course semesters plus a one-course January term.

Fraternities were phased out beginning in 1962. Coeducation was adopted in 1970.

The school color is purple. The mascot is the Purple Cow. Sports teams are called “Ephs.” (more…)

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Where’s my remote? Shared upper level math courses across schools

Presentation Slides: PDF

LACOL 2017 Session 7 
Speaker: Steven J. Miller, Assoc. Professor of Mathematics, Williams College
Date & Location: June 16, Vassar College
Related Links:

As small institutions cannot always offer the classes our students need at the time they need them, several people at various LACOL schools have been exploring how to remotely share classes. While there many not be enough demand at any one place for a certain topic, by combining students from several schools we can have a course. There are many challenges, especially keeping the small liberal arts feel and having all students engaged. We report on the beta test, Miller’s Problem Solving class at Williams. We’ll discuss the technology used, emphasizing how the content was delivered and connections were made between students and faculty, and the challenges in coordinating a course across several campuses.

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Sharing Courses in Self-Instructional Language Programs through Online Conversation

SILP

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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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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Faux Epistolary Travel Novels: summer in Philadelphia with the Early Novels Database

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The Early Novels Database (END) Project creates super-rich metadata to help researchers imagine new histories for the novel.
Early Novels Database metadata helps researchers imagine new histories for the novel.

by Caroline McArdle, Williams College ’18

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.

Figure 2: Visualization of place names from faux epistolary novels.
Figure 1 (top) and Figure 2 (above): Visualizations of place names from faux epistolary novels.

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Learning Data. What do we know? What do we want to know?

Highlights of the April 27th panel discussion

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.

Bilger, Crouch, De Veaux, Jilani, Nixon
Left to Right: Panelists Audrey Bilger, Catherine Crouch, Richard De Veaux, Saleha Jilani, Andrea Nixon
For full details about the panelists and the program, see the Panel Announcement

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?

(more…)

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Digital. Dynamic. Mobile. The Graphics Codex by Prof. Morgan McGuire.

A reference topic in The Graphics Codex

           The Codex  •  Nonlinear Content   •   Dynamic Layout  •  Self-Publishing  •  Coming Soon

I own and use the Graphics Codex. Is it a reference tool, a companion to a textbook, an alternative to a textbook, or a self-study guide? It can work in any of these roles, but I think it is in fact a new thing. It’s a thing we’ll be seeing a lot of…dollar for dollar, it’s the best scholarly information I have ever purchased.
Prof. Peter Shirley (University of Utah)
coauthor of Fundamentals of Computer Graphics

As befits its subject, the hot new graphics textbook isn’t available on paper. It is pure digital. It covers the essential undergraduate and graduate topics, works on any screen from phone to projector, and adapts to your favorite equation style, programming language, and APIs. It costs your students only $10, and will never be out of date because it updates every month for free.


1. The Codex

A chapter on light transport
A chapter on light transport

Pictured at top: A reference topic in the Graphics Codex

I wrote the Graphics Codex (http://graphicscodex.com) as a textbook and reference for computational graphics. It draws on two decades of teaching and research experience in academia at Brown University and Williams College and in industry at companies like Activision and NVIDIA. The materials lines up with the latest ACM-IEEE curriculum, on which I consulted.

Through 13 chapters and hundreds of encylopedia-like articles, it covers all of the typical graphics syllabus topics such as ray tracing, OpenGL and GPUs, and virtual reality. What sets the Graphics Codex aside from other educational resources is that it fully embraces its digital medium to provide:

  • Web (for Android, Windows, Linux, and OS X) and iOS App versions
  • Always up to date: free monthly updates with new content and corrections
  • Accessible to all: costs only USD $10 from Amazon or Apple
  • Nonlinear, searchable content
  • All diagrams licensed for reuse in the classroom and presentations
  • Reader-selectable programming language and math conventions
  • All code samples are copyable
  • Automatic layout adjustment for every screen

The Graphics Codex is designed either to stand alone as your only text or to work as a supplement alongside a traditional book. In the past ten years I’ve taught courses in each style, and provide a suggested syllabus mapping from chapters in the top three graphics textbooks to related topics in the Graphics Codex.

A huge advantage of the web and mobile app packaging is that students always have the book with them. I pull up topics on the projector in lecture in response to questions. Students easily check the authoritative resource for the course whether they’re programming in lab or completing a problem set in on a blanket in the quad on a sunny day.

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Guest scholars join the discussion circle at Williams College: Using Skype in the classroom to connect data to creators

One Topics in Neuroscience discussion connected students at Williams College with both the first and senior authors of the assigned research paper at the University of Bern and McGill University.
One Topics in Neuroscience discussion connected students at Williams College with both the first and senior authors of the assigned research paper at the University of Bern and McGill University.

When undergraduate biology students read scientific papers, they see a tightly woven story connecting a set of data. However, not evident—and just as important for young scientists to recognize—are the ideas behind the experimental design and the challenges, failures, and triumphs of the scientists running and writing about the experiments. At Williams College, Assistant Professor of Biology Matt Carter and his students learn about this hidden world of biology research by engaging authors of the papers they read in classroom discussions using Skype videoconferencing.

After reading the research paper on their own, Topics in Neuroscience senior seminar students spent the first 45 minutes of the three hour long class time discussing the paper and generating a list of potential questions to ask the authors. Then, the authors joined the discussion by Skype using laptops and a room microphone. According to Carter:

Matthew Carter, Assistant Professor of Biology at Williams.
Matthew Carter, Assistant Professor of Biology at Williams.

This part of the discussion was not scripted or organized and became a free flowing conversation about science, experimental work, and personal engagement with the process. Students were able to ask spontaneous questions such as, “Which experiment in the paper was the most satisfying?” This question triggered a fascinating and lengthy answer about how difficult it was to carry out a key experiment and how tremendous they payoff was when it was achieved. Such insights are not contained published paper and would only emerge in this type of discussion session.

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