How can a traditional liberal arts campus practice distance learning? Vassar College launched a pilot program to take face-to-face learning from a residential setting into cyberspace, and its academic computing director, Steve Taylor, tells the story at the Academic Commons site
The program addressed a non-residential, non-face-to-face need: the summer reading assignment for incoming first-year students. Vassar set up a Moodle course management system instance, and faculty created discussion-provoking videos. Contents went live, and students were able to access them after physical copies of the book (Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)) arrived.
A few key points:
- The faculty involved were from multiple (if quite complementary) disciplines.
- A librarian played a key role.
- Video content was significant in terms of resources (time) and instructional design.
- The use of Moodle and YouTube enabled some data analytics work, like this analysis of discussion forum writing:
Another interesting point, crucial for small institutions like Vassar, was making a shift in scale. As Taylor points out,
for a college that typically has an average class size of about 17 and a maximum class size of about 42, this was possibly the largest scale of learning experience the college has ever offered.
The incoming first-year Vassar class in 2014 number 670.
Vassar’s 2014 pilot represents another example of small, liberal arts institutions expanding their teaching online. Let’s see what happens next.