Pomona, CMC Host Online Education Workshop

While the age of the massive online open course (MOOC) and the flipped classroom is upon us, the phenomenon of online education is often associated with science and mathematics fields. At a summer conference here in Claremont, though, eight colleges came together to consider new applications of technology in liberal arts education.

The
Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning (LACOL), of which both Pomona
College and Claremont McKenna College are members, held a workshop on online
education June 1-2 on Pomona’s campus. The event did not lead to specific plans for new technologies, but it provided a forum to consider the direction that some of the 5Cs may soon take.

According to Pomona President David Oxtoby, LACOL is not seeking to implement MOOCs but opened up the possibility for flipped classrooms, in which students watch a recorded lecture before the class, allowing the time in class to be much more participatory.

“We’re interested in using technology in more interactive ways,” Oxtoby said. 

New technology, however, will not be forced on professors. When asked what technology will be implemented, Oxtoby replied, “It’s up to the faculty.”

LACOL is
a group of eight liberal arts colleges seeking to “improve teaching and
learning by adopting appropriate technologies in ways that are consistent with
our mission,” according to its website. The founding co-directors of LACOL are Pomona’s Frank P. Brackett Professor of Astronomy Bryan Penprase and Andrea Nixon, the director of educational research at Carleton College. 

The
workshop was attended by faculty members of LACOL’s eight participating colleges. Members include Amherst
College, Vassar College, Williams College, Carleton College, Haverford College and Swarthmore College.

Nixon wrote in an email to TSL that she and Penprase made site visits at all eight colleges in spring 2014.

“The conference in June was centered on themes that were prominent during the site visits,” Nixon wrote.

Jill Grigsby, an associate dean of the college and behavioral sciences and sociology professor at Pomona, attended the conference.

“We were
coming together to talk about ways that we could incorporate online learning
and other technology into learning on our campuses,” Grigsby said. “The
idea is that by having these eight liberal arts colleges working together, we
will have the resources to then be able to go to … one of these online
technology producers, and we can leverage our interests and work with that
producer.” 

However,
this is not to say that more traditional elements of the liberal arts education
are being abandoned.

“I’m a
firm believer in face-to-face interaction, and I think that’s really the heart
of what were doing at a small liberal arts college,” Grigsby said. “I believe
that’s what each of the members of LACOL believes.”

The formation of LACOL dates back to the summer of 2013, when many
colleges were independently invited to talk about edX, an open-source, nonprofit online education provider.
The eight LACOL colleges then decided to “keep talking about this together,” Oxtoby said. 

Oxtoby
wrote that more conferences and talks will be held once a new faculty member
from one of the eight colleges steps up to replace Penprase, who is on sabbatical.

“LACOL
may be unique to the degree to which we have a relatively small number of
schools working together to frame our efforts in terms of the educational
challenges and opportunities,” Nixon wrote. “Ultimately these efforts will
result in new resources for students.”

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