Online Learning Project

“Those technologies that allow students to be working when they want to be working have been very helpful, and I’ve shared them with my colleagues.”

Read what St. Olaf math professor Kristina Garrett says about her experience using online technologies in “on-the-ground” courses.

The goal of the ACM Online Learning Project (OLP) is to explore ways in which online learning could be used to enhance the educational missions of ACM colleges as small, residential liberal arts institutions.

Responding to a request by the ACM Board of Directors in spring 2012, the consortial staff and the ACM Academic Deans initiated the Online Learning Project with two main objectives:

  • To investigate whether an online course could retain the exemplary characteristics of a residential liberal arts college on-campus course, and
  • To use the experience with this course to learn more about developing blended learning materials for on-campus courses.

Online course in Applied Calculus

As part of the Online Learning Project, ACM offered a summer online course in applied calculus, titled Calculus: A Modeling Approach, for students enrolled at ACM colleges in 2013-16.

In early 2013, mathematics professors Kristina Garrett (St. Olaf College) and Chad Topaz (Macalester College) collaborated to develop and teach a pilot online course in applied calculus. With technical assistance from instructional technologists Nancy Aarsvold (St. Olaf) and Barron Koralesky (Macalester), Garrett and Topaz created course materials and then taught the class that summer.

In keeping with the aim of offering a small, participatory course, enrollment was capped at 20 students and the course was structured to foster student-faculty interaction and build a community of learners.

The pilot course was assessed using student evaluations and interviews with course participants conducted by consultant Dr. Rachelle Brooks, who prepared a report of her findings for the ACM Academic Deans.

Following the success of the pilot course, ACM offered the course in summer 2014 taught by Chad Topaz, in summer 2015 taught by Kristina Garrett, and in summer 2016 taught by Knox College mathematics professors Mary Armon and Andrew Leahy.

Online Teaching Workshop in June 2014

ACM sponsored  a professional development workshop for faculty interested in developing and teaching online courses that seek to retain the signature characteristics of an on-campus residential liberal arts college course.

Read more about the Online Learning Project

Using Online Technologies in the Classroom

Kristina Garrett
Kristina Garrett

When mathematics professors Kristina Garrett (St. Olaf College) and Chad Topaz (Macalester College took on the challenge in 2013 of developing and teaching a pilot online course in applied calculus for ACM Online Learning Project, both had some prior experience using online tools in the classroom.

Over the next several months, though, they really got a crash course in online instructional technology as they worked with technologists Barron Koralesky (Macalester College) and Nancy Aarsvold (St. Olaf College) to bring Calculus: A Modeling Approach successfully online.

Looking ahead to teaching the online course in summer 2015, Garrett talked about some of the impacts her experience teaching an online course has had on her classroom teaching — and that of her colleagues — at St. Olaf:

“In the time I spent with Chad developing the course, we investigated so many different technological options for use in the course, and we made some choices, based on our pedagogical interests, of technologies and platforms to use. Both of us also learned new skills and new technologies, and I’ve brought those to my on-the-ground courses at St. Olaf and shared those with my colleagues.

“So, for example, the online forum that we used — Piazza — allows students to interact with their peers comfortably and anonymously at all times of day and night when they are doing their homework. I don’t have office hours at 11:00 at night, but students sometimes have questions at 11:00 at night. They can post them [on Piazza] and other students who have already gone through the problem might have some words of advice or encouragement.

“Those technologies [such as Piazza] that allow students to be working when they want to be working have been very helpful, and I’ve shared them with my colleagues. Other faculty in my department at St. Olaf have been using those technologies and have been benefiting from the design efforts that Chad and I went through.”

“I think [the experience has] enhanced how I teach my on-the-ground classes.”

Read the Online Calculus Course Assessment prepared by Rachelle Brooks.

Read more about ACM’s pilot online course

Pilot Online Course in 2013

Responding to a request by the ACM Board of Directors in spring 2012, the ACM Academic Deans recommended that ACM offer a pilot online course in basic calculus in summer 2013, and that a faculty advisory committee should be formed to help guide the work of the faculty members invited to develop and teach the course.

With support from the Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) program, Kristina Garrett (Associate Professor of Mathematics, St. Olaf College) and Chad Topaz (Associate Professor of Mathematics, Macalester College) agreed to collaborate to develop and teach Calculus: A Modeling Approach, an eight-week online course in applied calculus held on June 17-August 9, 2013.

Throughout the development process and the course, the faculty received technical support from Nancy Aarsvold (Assistant Director of Instructional Technology, St. Olaf) and Barron Koralesky (Associate Director for Information Technology Services, Macalester).

pilot online course word cloudGarrett and Topaz designed Calculus: A Modeling Approach primarily for students majoring in the social sciences and natural sciences who want to apply quantitative tools to their field.

The mathematical topics covered included functions, dimensional analysis and estimation, linear algebra, curve fitting, differential and integral calculus, optimization, and differential equations – all within the framework of mathematical modeling and computing.

The course was structured in weekly units (and one two-week unit), with the following elements:

  1. Video lectures that students watched, followed by a brief online checkpoint quiz.
  2. A homework assignment for each unit.
  3. An online unit test.
  4. Via the web tool Piazza, students participated in a rich, community-centered online forum.
  5. To support the kind of student-faculty interaction expected at liberal arts colleges, students in small groups participated in weekly, live video tutorials with faculty.
  6. Faculty kept regular video office hours for individual interaction with students.

The course was designed for a maximum of 20 students. In summer 2013, 16 students from eight ACM colleges completed the course.

Assessing the course

Along with course assessment conducted by the instructors, students who took the course were interviewed by Dr. Rachelle Brooks to gather their perspectives in the following areas:

  • Their motivations for enrolling in the course and their initial expectations about the course;
  • Their prior encounters with calculus, online courses, and the technologies used in the course;
  • Their enrollment experiences and sources of information about the course;
  • Their experiences and attitudes as students during the course; and
  • Their overall evaluations and recommendations for improvement of the course.

Dr. Brooks prepared a report on her findings for the ACM Academic Deans, concluding that:

Overall, the findings from the student interviews should provide assurance to the ACM that courses administered exclusively in an online setting can satisfy student expectations for a quality educational experience when instructors deploy available technological resources to create a more personalized online course-taking experience. Indeed, this course may serve as important evidence that online courses can deliver education in ways that are not all that different from that which is the hallmark of the liberal arts experience: regular student and faculty interactions, low student-to-faculty ratios, and intimate peer-to-peer learning groups.

Online Teaching Workshop

  • Friday, June 13, 2014
  • ACM Office in Chicago, IL

This faculty development workshop, sponsored by ACM’s Online Learning Project (OLP), was designed to provide an introduction to many of the issues involved in developing and teaching online courses that seek to retain the signature characteristics of an on-campus residential liberal arts college course.

In addition to presentations about online teaching, the workshop was also an opportunity for faculty to explore a number of questions about online courses at residential liberal arts colleges, such as:

  • Can online courses successfully capture the key qualities of close student-faculty interaction and a robust learning community that characterize on-campus courses at ACM colleges?
  • What kind of support is required for faculty to develop and teach these courses?
  • What are the benefits of online courses at liberal arts colleges?
  • What problems might these courses solve?
  • Are there courses, such as those in the lesser-taught languages, which would be particularly well-suited to online instruction?


Four faculty who have taught online courses gave presentations at the workshop.

Shonda Kuiper, Associate Professor of Mathematics & Statistics, Grinnell College

Download Shonda Kuiper’s presentation

Shonda Kuiper
Shonda Kuiper

Kuiper developed and teaches an online class, Statistical Modeling, offered by Grinnell through the Global Online Academy, a consortium of independent high schools around the world. She received the 2012 MERLOT Classics Award in Statistics for creating Stat2Labs, a set of lab modules that enable students to apply statistical analysis to research problems from the sciences and social sciences, such as population growth modeling and global surface temperature estimation. The award is given once a year for the best peer-reviewed online resources designed to enhance teaching and learning.

Brad Miller, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Luther College

Download Brad Miller’s presentation

Brad Miller
Brad Miller

A software entrepreneur before moving into academe, Miller’s latest research explores technologies and tools for interactive textbooks. He teaches a summer online course for Luther students, Introduction to Computer Science II, which uses an interactive textbook he developed through Runestone Interactive. The textbook, which is open source and available to anyone who wants to learn computer science, is used at more than 100 institutions around the world.

Claire Moisan, Senior Lecturer in French and Director of the Alternate Language Study Option (ALSO), Grinnell College

Download Claire Moisan’s presentation

Claire Moisan
Claire Moisan

Moisan is working with a group of international students to develop learning modules for a self-instructional/peer tutoring program in less commonly or less frequently taught languages. The goal of this project is essentially to flip the classroom in order to boost the self-instructional component of the ALSO program, to make learners more active in and accountable for their own learning, and to focus the instructional, peer tutoring time on real world language tasks. She hopes to pilot and assess courses in  Hindi, Swahili, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian in 2014.

Chad Topaz, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Statistics, & Computer Science, Macalester College

Download Chad Topaz’s presentation

Chad Topaz
Chad Topaz

In 2013, Topaz teamed with St. Olaf College mathematician Kristina Garrett to develop and co-teach ACM’s pilot online course, Calculus: A Modeling Approach, which he is teaching again this summer. For years he has extensively used online technology, such as in the “flipped classroom” format, to support his learner-centered pedagogy.

Course Faculty and Staff

Mathematics professors Chad Topaz and Kristina Garrett developed and co-taught this course in summer 2013. The course was then taught by Professor Topaz in summer 2014 and by Professor Garrett in summer 2015.


Kristina Garrett

Kristina Garrett
Kristina Garrett

Associate Professor of Mathematics Kristina (Tina) Garrett (S.B. M.I.T., Ph.D. Minnesota) is a pure mathematician at St. Olaf College working in q-series, partition theory and algebraic combinatorics. The author of several papers, Prof. Garrett has shared her enthusiasm for research by supervising dozens of undergraduate research students over the last decade. Tina is currently serving as the North American Director for the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program – an intensive study abroad program designed for top U.S. mathematics students. She is also active in local and national professional associations, including the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and the Association for Women in Mathematicians (AWM), and she currently serves on the Committee on Undergraduate Student Activities and Chapters of the MAA. 

Chad Topaz

Chad Topaz
Chad Topaz

Associate Professor of Mathematics Chad Topaz (A.B. Harvard, Ph.D. Northwestern) is an applied mathematician at Macalester College working in nonlinear dynamical systems and mathematical biology. Passionate about working with undergraduates, Prof. Topaz teaches courses including applied calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, and mathematical modeling. For his teaching efforts, he was awarded UCLA’s Sorgenfrey Distinguished Teaching Award in Mathematics, and Macalester’s Jack and Marty Rossmann Excellence in Teaching Award. Prof. Topaz is a a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, and his National Science Foundation supported research program is centered on collaboration with students.

Faculty Advisory Committee

Members of the Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) for Online Learning were nominated by the academic deans at their colleges. As with the FACs for all of the ACM off-campus study programs, the committee plays a key role in maintaining strong connections between online courses offered by ACM and curricula on the consortial campuses.

The committee’s first meeting was held on June 6, 2014, at the ACM office in Chicago. The agenda included reviewing the student evaluations from ACM’s pilot online course in applied calculus in 2013 and discussing possible disciplines and topics for other consortial online courses.

For more information about this committee, contact Emily Gaul, ACM Assistant Program Manager.

Beloit College

  • Katie Johnson, Assistant Professor of Biology

Cornell College

  • Kate Kauper, Assistant Professor of Education

Grinnell College

  • Claire Moisan, Senior Lecturer and Director, French and Alternative Language Option

Knox College

  • Danielle Fatkin, Assistant Professor of History

Lake Forest College

  • Dustin Mengelkoch, Assistant Professor of English

Lawrence University

  • Brian Pertl, Dean of the Conservatory of Music

Luther College

  • Brad Miller, Associate Professor of Computer Science

Macalester College

  • Andrew Beveridge, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Statistics, & Computer Science
  • Chad Topaz, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Statistics, & Computer Science

Monmouth College

  • Logan Mayfield, Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Ripon College

  • Andrea Young, Assistant Professor of Mathematics & Computer Science

St. Olaf College

  • Kristina Garrett, Associate Professor of Mathematics
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