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Grinnell experiments with online teaching

Recently, Grinnell began its partnership with Global Online Academy (GOA). Founded in 2011, GOA is an online consortium of 32 high schools across the United States and in four other countries: China, Japan, Indonesia and Jordan.

The partnership was discussed in meetings with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) this past summer. Having already visited some of GOA’s partner schools, President Raynard Kington was interested in the possibility of establishing a relationship between GOA and Grinnell College.

“We suggested, wouldn’t it be great if we had a pilot, where … students could take a course and work with one of our faculty members and earn college credit,” Kington said.

Currently, Grinnell is offering one four-credit online course for high school students registered with GOA. 18 students are enrolled in an Advanced Statistics course with Professor Shonda Kuiper, Mathematics and Statistics. Each student interested in taking courses through GOA was required to go through an application process. Additionally, a prerequisite for Kuiper’s course in particular was that students must have taken and passed AP Statistics.

Educators teaching these courses must be trained through the GOA in an Online Learning Environments Certification Series. Kuiper took an online class for several weeks in order to familiarize herself with the software and systems required to effectively teach an online class.

Students complete daily homework assignments, which are submitted through Dropbox, an online file hosting service. They take quizzes, are assigned readings, watch videos and work in groups. The class is generally asynchronous, yet Kuiper and her students work out a schedule—keeping multiple time zones in mind—to meet as a group and to meet one-on-one. When working on their own, students can email either Kuiper or other classmates if any questions arise.

Ultimately, Kuiper likens the experience to that of teaching a regular class.

“One thing to really consider about this, even as a college, is to think about technology as an environment, not a pedagogy. So it’s not like a new type of material that’s being taught—it’s just a different way to think about teaching,” Kuiper said. “The pedagogical issues that come up in an online class are very similar to the way they come up in a regular meeting class.”

This partnership will cost the school less than $50,000—a small portion of a larger gift by Clint Korver ’89 and Miriam Rivera. Korver hoped to build upon Grinnell’s teaching techniques with the program.

A potential misperception about GOA is that it offers what amount to massive open online courses (MOOCs), generic lectures intended to be accessed by large numbers of students online. Kuiper fights this label, however, pointing to the fact that GOA courses are capped at 18 students. Additionally, students are graded and evaluated as if the course was in a classroom setting, unlike with MOOCs.

“What the MOOCs do often is that they record a one-hour lecture, but if you’ve watched a one-hour lecture, it’s not very interesting,” Kuiper said. “The GOA posts videos that are five to ten minutes in length. If you want to do an online class, that’s really what it needs to be.”

Currently, the College is in the process of trying to figure out how it can better utilize this new program and still align it with Grinnell teaching standards.

David Lopatto, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, who leads a committee in charge of technology-rich teaching and learning, hopes to help Grinnell explore new avenues for education in the digital age.

“I’ve been thinking about this … what is Grinnell going to do about the technology-rich teaching and learning, in all of its forms—everything from having more classroom computers, clickers, the use of the internet, the use of YouTube in the classroom,” Lopatto said. “The idea is to take a look at this big picture, and try and come up with recommendations for resource allocation and policy.”

A lot of continuing education now takes place online and Kington believes that online learning can be used to help prepare students now for this adjustment.

“It’s not going to be used as our core teaching method, but it might be used to complement us in some ways,” he said. “I’m getting close to believing that one of the things that institutions like Grinnell should do is help prepare students to learn in this environment, even though it’s not our primary learning environment.”

Kington is confident and hopeful that partnering with GOA is a beneficial advancement for the College.

“The stars aligned themselves for us to do this in a relatively short notice, and I think it’s a great pilot for us as an institution,” Kington said.

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  • S

    Sally Singer BrodskySep 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    This is so exciting! And Grinnell is in the first wave. I’m proud and more than a little envious. I wish I could have learned that way.

  • T

    TripodSep 27, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Hhhmmm. Let’s see, credit for a prison program and now credit for high school students. It all sounds noble, but it ain’t Grinnell University. I guess you do what donors want, but ain’t it funny the college also claims abject poverty when it comes to financial aid and need blind.