Founded in 1861, Vassar College is a highly selective, residential, coeducational liberal arts college. Consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country, Vassar is renowned for pioneering achievements in education, for its long history of curricular innovation, and for the beauty of its campus.
In the scenic Hudson Valley, 75 miles north of New York City, in Poughkeepsie (area population, about 100,000). Vassar is in a residential area three miles from the city center.
1,000 picturesque acres ranging from the manicured lawns and formal gardens of the main campus to the meadows and woodlands of the Vassar Farm. Over 100 academic and residential buildings ranging in style from collegiate gothic to modernist, including two National Historic Landmarks. (more…)
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 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.
Emerging pedagogies for inclusion are keen topics of interest across the liberal arts. Our Teaching & Learning Centers, and our academic support colleagues have a growing body of experience – what works and what doesn’t work – when it comes to supporting our diverse student body academically and as whole persons. Collaboration around these insights and measurements across LACOL has seemed like a useful idea to many. To advance these conversations, two interrelated workshops will be held in the Spring of 2018:
WORKSHOP 2: Measuring Complex Domains of Learning (Inclusive Pedagogies)
The goal of these paired workshops is to start a dialogue across our stakeholders around issue of access and inclusion, and to consider ways in which both qualitative and quantitative assessments might be used to jointly study this aspect (and others) of the liberal arts experience. (more…)
LACOL 2017 Session 9: Visualizing student storymaps on the web Presenter: Mary Ann Cunningham, Associate Professor of Geography, Vassar College Date & Location: June 16, Vassar College
Web maps, map apps and other emerging applications are making it easier to visualize, share, and publicize spatial data. A principal advantage of these approaches is that we can make visible the issues that matter to us, and that we discuss in classes, from digital access to energy resource impacts to neoliberal development policies. In this talk Mary Ann Cunningham discusses how students in her spring 2017 Geography course, Web Mapping, developed story maps to aid in making visible a variety of issues they wanted to share. In the process of finding and processing data, they developed their data management abilities, and in the app design they practiced prioritizing and organizing narratives.
In connection with LACOL’s Upper Level Math collaboration, Assistant Professor Jingchen (Monika) Hu at Vassar College is opening her Fall 2017 Bayesian Statistics course to students from across the consortium. As the course unfolds, Prof. Hu plans to share bi-weekly lectures and screencasts with the class and engage with remote students via video conferencing and online office hours. On each participating campus, a local faculty liaison will be on hand to guide students as needed. Technical support will be provided in partnership with instructional technology/academic computing groups on each campus. In exploring the opportunity for the pilot experiment, Hu said:
To me, this shared/hybrid model can be a great way to get students on our campuses the access to upper level statistics courses. After collecting some data, I am very amazed at how rich the upper level statistics offering [across LACOL] could be if we can share the resources in some way.
The Bayesian Statistics pilot will complement another hybrid/shared offering in Real Analysis from Associate Professor Stephan Garcia at Pomona College. Because sharing Garcia’s course lectures will require capture of his mathematical notations on several blackboards, he is testing a robotic camera rig that can be positioned to record high definition video all around the classroom.
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.
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.
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
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. (See also Vassar DataFest 2017.) 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.
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…)
In November 2014, LACOL sponsored a two-day conference at Vassar College titled “Engaged and Active Reading.” LACOL faculty and staff gathered to consider how reading may be changing in a digital age, and the implications for teaching and learning in the liberal arts.
Brainstorming on cross-campus collaborative reading, annotation, and curricular development projects, course modules, or models .
Workshop discussion explored various ways to promote a robust “culture of engaged reading” for the liberal arts through practice and course assignments. While online life can contribute to distraction, there are also interesting new pedagogies for engaging with text with digital tools. Several of the workshop participants are also active in LACOL’s Active Reading Working Group which continues to explore these questions more deeply through collaboration. (more…)
In this clip, Ben Ho, Associate Professor of Economics at Vassar College, shares his thoughts on economic motivations, learning theory and the use of games to teach economics as part of a liberal arts curriculum. Prof. Ho is a behavioral economist who uses economic tools like game theory and experiments to understand social systems such as apologies, identity signaling, and climate concerns. This talk was part of a series of conversations on innovative use of digital and online approaches for teaching and learning at the 2014 consortium-wide workshop held at Pomona College.
Prof. Ben Ho discusses games for teaching economics
Ho sees students responding very positively to the use of games for class, and this is reflected in their learning. He says:
I have always considered classroom games an essential part of my pedagogy. It gives students a way to fully engage in strategic thinking. Games like MobLab greatly simplify the task of implementing games in class, its highly polished presentation impresses students, and has been the most positively commented upon change to my teaching, with lots of unsolicited positive feedback both after class and in course evaluations.