Grinnell offers new summer Guided Learning Program

With summer quickly approaching, students will have a new opportunity to continue their learning over the summer with Grinnell College’s newly-formed Guided Learning Program, which is currently in its pilot stage. The program will allow 30 students to pursue interests not covered by the current Grinnell curriculum, which they will do by taking a class though the online course forums edX and iversity in conjunction with a Grinnell professor, who will meet with the student biweekly and determine the appropriate requirements for receiving Grinnell credits for the course. The courses will be free through the program, but they cannot be used to fulfill major requirements.

Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Michael Latham also sees the program as an opportunity for students and faculty to enhance understanding of online course options and assess the quality of these courses.

“This proposal derives from a sense that new technologies are transforming the landscape of higher education to a degree that the College cannot afford to simply ignore them.  Any consideration of their relevance for Grinnell, however, must be based on a serious analysis of their strengths and weaknesses in our own distinctive educational context,” Latham explained in an email to The S&B.

While the courses cannot be used to fulfill major requirements, they should provide an opportunity to explore interests that are not taught at Grinnell, Latham noted.

“I think that students who have a sense of curiosity about areas of study that are related to the liberal arts but not directly covered in our current curriculum could certainly consider this option. Courses in areas like architectural design, financial risk analysis or medicinal chemistry, for example, might be well suited to a program like this,” Latham wrote. “They are not among the courses we currently offer, but members of our faculty might have the interest and expertise to work with students in exploring these areas.”

The program also allows students to take advantage of summertime, when many students are less busy than they are during the school year, to continue obtaining Grinnell credit for free during this pilot program.

“Financially and flexibility wise, it’s kind of a great deal, I think,” said Registrar of the College Jason Maher. “You could get four credits for free over the summer. It will count toward the 124 credits needed to graduate even though it’s not fulfilling major requirements.”

By joining with faculty to learn about new subjects, Latham stated that the program is able to ensure that the work meets the standard of Grinnell College credit as well as being a chance for faculty to explore new interests along with students.

“The real value is to explore an area of interest to the faculty member as well as the student, to test out new ideas, and to learn more about resources that are available for teaching too,” Latham wrote. “My hope is that this will allow faculty to learn about new areas of interest, gain exposure to different teaching materials, and learn more about the kind of technologies and tools being used in online courses.”

In establishing the Guided Learning Program, Maher was responsible for choosing edX and iversity as the platforms offered in the program.

“We were looking specifically for course content that falls most closely in line with the liberal arts-type courses that we offer here. In many ways edX is sort of the standard bearer for these types of courses, developed by MIT and Harvard, they have a really diverse and highly regarded number of institutions,” Maher said. Because the course offerings will change frequently, students will be able to register for courses with edX and iversity until May 15.

Note: The headline for this article was incorrectly published in the print version of this issue of The S&B.