On April 24, CMC student and member of the Education Taskforce Nicki Maslin hosted a panel discussion on what is widely regarded as the future of education, online learning programs. “[Online education] isn’t meant to kill liberal arts colleges,” Maslin said during her introduction, “but instead it should become integrated.”
The panel included three CMC professors, Audrey Bilger, professor of literature, Diane Halpern, professor of psychology and Thomas Poon, professor of organic chemistry. All three professors were proponents of integrating the liberal arts classroom with supporting online education materials.
Bilger offered the humanities perspective, expressing her desire to be present at discussions about online education regardless of its science and mathematical emphasis. Presently, Bilger’s students participate in online forums outside of class. “It works well for literature…I get responses from students that I wouldn’t have expected,” Bilger said.
Halpern created an online game that allows students to employ scientific reasoning while playing. Not only does Halpern find this method more interactive and engaging, but it requires that students process and utilize what they are learning through the program. Students cannot move forward in the game unless they have clearly demonstrated that they understand and can apply the learned method.
Poon uses a “flipped” classroom, or a class that is partly online and partly in-class. This allows Poon to require the watching of video lectures and completion of basic instructional work prior to each class.
“[Online education] isn’t meant to kill liberal arts colleges, but instead it should become integrated.”
“The benefit to students is that when they come into class they have already been exposed to the lecture material. This allows us to explore topics in greater depth, cover new material, and engage in more active pedagogies,” he said.
Three experts in the area of online education also participated in the discussion. Michael Nanfito, the associate director for the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, stressed the importance of integrating online education in a way that fit with the goals of the institution, a serious concern for a college seeking to adopt these new technologies. Steven Syverund who works in business development at the online education company, Coursera, highlighted the importance of online learning serving as a mechanism to education and not an end in itself.
Discussions of online education have become more positive as more people come to understand the fascinating new ways technology can be implemented in courses.
However, just like in-person lecture-based teaching, there can be a lack of engagement with students. “I do not see the advantage of watching something on a screen rather than [watching it] live,” Halpern said. “We need to keep what is special – the relationship between the student and other students and between the student and faculty.”
Online education is no longer restricted to massive open online courses that often include pre-recorded lectures and accompanying materials. Instead, new technology allows for the creation of an online community for those enrolled in an online education course, a significant element in the learning process.
The panel was unanimous in their assertion that online education was the future, but how precisely online education will be integrated at the Claremont Colleges and when this future is set to arrive was still largely unknown.