Colgate University has joined the online learning platform edX as a contributing member, through a unique partnership with our liberal arts neighbor, Hamilton College. Colgate’s Douglas Hicks, provost and dean of faculty, and Kevin Lynch, chief information officer, discuss how this collaboration places Colgate at the forefront of utilizing online technologies to enhance our residential liberal arts mission.
1) Why is Colgate partnering with Hamilton College in this edX venture?
Doug: This Colgate-Hamilton partnership, which is unique among the edX institutions, allows us to explore online learning in the context of our shared commitment to teaching excellence and to the liberal arts. We will learn from each other and from edX, a nonprofit organization that is very interested in exploring how technology can improve classroom instruction, which is at the core of what Hamilton and Colgate do.
Kevin: The role of online learning in a residential liberal arts environment is evolving. Partnering with Hamilton College allows collaboration between faculty and support staff in sharing ideas and resources. It provides a sounding board as we develop new approaches that are unique and emphasize the primacy of personal relationships that is essential to a liberal arts education.
2) How will the university joining edX benefit members of the Colgate community?
Doug: The noncredit edX courses and modules we develop will not try to duplicate what we do best: face-to-face, in-class instruction. Yet this platform makes possible a host of new ways to interact and learn. The Colgate community is scattered across the country and the world, through our alumni base as well as our students studying off campus. The edX platform will complement the personal interactions between our faculty and students, and between our faculty and alumni, providing even greater in-class and global engagement.
I envision that our edX courses, which likely will take several different forms, can increase Colgate’s visibility with prospective students, and our faculty’s exciting scholarship and teaching will reach broader audiences.
Kevin: By joining edX we can provide open courses for anyone around the world, as well as courses for “closed” audiences. For example, we could provide a course for incoming first-years, or our career services center could tailor programs for select groups of students or alumni. I believe edX can be a mechanism for faculty to explore new teaching models, and it has the potential to enhance two popular courses we now provide to alumni: our great Living Writers Online series, and the Advent of the Atomic Bomb course with Professor Karen Harpp.
This platform also offers us a method for our current students to engage intellectually with learners from across the globe. Alumni will be able to offer their life experiences to our students, providing a broad educational experience.
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3) How does becoming an edX contributing member fit with Colgate’s use of technology to enhance learning?
Doug: President Herbst has provided both the vision and the resources for exploring how Colgate can best utilize technology in our educational mission. This exploration is a fundamental element of the university’s strategic plan, which the Board of Trustees recently approved. This commitment can be seen through Colgate’s own financial commitment to technology initiatives, as well as through various grants we’ve received, including a Mellon Foundation planning grant for teaching and technology. And, with our strategic prioritization of the Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research, we see this as a way to support pedagogical innovation.
Kevin: I am excited to have access to the wealth of data that edX collects about the effectiveness of online and other types of learning. Access to this “big data” will hopefully provide our faculty with insights into what works pedagogically, as well as a way to compare and analyze different approaches. Again, this edX relationship is meant to complement the kind of pedagogical innovation that we have long pursued on campus through groups like the Faculty Development Council, Collaboration for Enhanced Learning, and the Center for Learning, Teaching and Research.
4) Why is Colgate joining edX now?
Doug: We are excited to be joining edX as a contributing member. The opportunity to partner with Hamilton College was timely, and we are pleased to join Wellesley College and Davidson College, already part of the edX consortium, as leading liberal arts schools experimenting with online teaching.
Kevin: As Colgate pursues the newly adopted strategic plan, edX is an excellent fit for many of the initiatives identified, such as internationalization and experimentation with technology to innovate in teaching. EdX, being a nonprofit with a broad vision for improving pedagogy, is a natural partner for an institution with an almost 200-year history of excellence in teaching. This partnership provides yet another avenue for Colgate to innovate and learn about the art and science of teaching, and provides a platform to share and learn with peer institutions.
5) How will the courses Colgate offers through edX be determined?
Doug: I will be inviting faculty members to submit proposals and ideas for courses they could teach to various Colgate audiences or to an open public audience. We will develop an array of courses from across the curriculum that showcase Colgate’s liberal arts approach. We will compensate faculty members for their time in developing and delivering these new courses. We envision that various offices on campus — alumni relations, dean of the college, and admission — will help us create noncredit courses to reach specialized audiences. We expect that insights gained from this online platform will enhance, directly and indirectly, our face-to-face classes on campus.