At Rollins College (Fla.), we’re always looking for new ways to enhance student learning experiences. A signature feature of liberal arts schools is the intimacy and strength of engagement in the classroom. With this philosophy, you might assume that virtual classrooms don’t have a place at Rollins. But technology’s role in higher education isn’t synonymous just with distance learning and online courses. Technology is a tool that can enrich the liberal arts learning experience and make it more meaningful. That’s why the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS), a consortium of 16 liberal arts colleges throughout the Southeast, is developing the New Paradigm Initiative.
This initiative allows us to use high-definition video-conferencing technology for inter-institutional learning—generating chances for students to select from a larger number and wider variety of courses, while maintaining the advantages of a small liberal arts learning environment. Our alliance of 3,000 faculty and 30,000 students enables us to pool our resources and act collectively in ways we couldn’t individually.
Making it Happen
This process began two years ago when Rollins’ modern languages lecturer Li Wei, who specializes in Chinese, collaborated with a colleague at Southwestern University (Texas) who was also teaching Chinese studies. As web cameras linked the two classes, Wei delivered a lecture on Chinese music. A few weeks later, his colleague delivered a shared lecture on the language’s poetry. They were inspired by the Sunoikisis program, created by the ACS in 1995 to enable faculty in Latin and Greek studies to share their knowledge with participating institutions.
The possibilities for the New Paradigm Initiative are vast. Faculty members can teach courses on their own, or they can team-teach with colleagues in various locations. Either way, the technology enables professors and students in both places to interact as one class. Without video or audio delays, the software creates seamless communications. ACS collaborators are raising the intellectual capital of students and faculty. This “blended learning” preserves the experience of one-on-one classroom interaction, since students and faculty can see and talk with each other and ask questions in real time.
With 3,000 faculty and 30,000 students, we can pool our resources and act collectively.
These classes are designed to offer upper-level, specialized material to deepen the focus in one subject area. Our intent is to limit them to this purpose. We aren’t interested in offering massive open online courses or increasing our class sizes. We are excited about the potential for additional uses of the program, including helping faculty and undergraduates collaborate on research and broadcasting the presentations of guest speakers.
The collaboration requires the endorsement of faculty. Luckily, we have champions on our campus who understand that technology is secondary and the New Paradigm Initiative’s focus is enhancing the educational experience. We also assure that a technical assistant is present so faculty members new to the process can focus on teaching and not be distracted by the technology.
As an organic process, the program will evolve based on the feedback we receive. For instance, we’ve learned that audio clarity is critical to language study, such as for the nuanced tones essential to learning Chinese. For these classes, we run a wideband teleconference concurrently with the videoconference to ensure crystal-clear sound quality. We’re also developing ways to promote more student interaction during and after lectures through chat and information-sharing tools.
At Rollins, we encourage students to embrace global experiences and broaden their perspectives, and the New Paradigm Initiative complements our mission. For example, a Rollins student majoring in Asian Studies planned to study abroad in Australia for a semester. While he was overseas, there were no courses available for him to maintain his Chinese language skills. The New Paradigm Initiative technology allowed him to take a Chinese course at Rollins, and he wasn’t forced to choose between a global experience and keeping up with his language studies.
We value the working relationships we have built with our ACS partners over the past two decades. Our hope is that the New Paradigm Initiative will provide an interactive, educational experience that enriches students’ learning opportunities on our campus and throughout the consortium. By working together, we can use technology to strengthen our bonds in higher education to benefit all of our students.