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Summer Online Course Draws Students from Across the ACM

Summer Online Course Draws Students from Across the ACM May 14, 2014

Next month, students will take their seats in ACM’s virtual classroom to begin an online course in Calculus: A Modeling Approach. The class, in session from June 9 to August 1, has drawn students from half of the ACM colleges. Enrollment in the course is capped at 20 participants, but a couple of spots are still available for interested students.

Macalester College math professor Chad Topaz is teaching the course, which is designed for students from a variety of majors in the social sciences and natural sciences, such as economics and biology, who want to apply quantitative methods to solving problems in their disciplines.

Chad TopazChad Topaz

Topaz and St. Olaf College math professor Kristina Garrett developed and co-taught the course last year as a pilot project for ACM’s Online Learning Project (OLP), an initiative aimed at exploring ways that online learning can be used to enhance the educational missions of ACM colleges.

“The fact that I will just be teaching the course, rather than teaching it while simultaneously developing it, will certainly allow me to give maximal attention to the students,” Topaz noted. “I am excited to teach another group of students!”

The course is structured with a combination of elements that students can do at their own pace – such as online lectures, sets of homework problems, and class discussion on the online forum – and weekly video tutorials when Topaz will meet with small groups of students. A pair of Undergraduate Student Assistants will work with Topaz, helping to respond to students’ questions, holding online office hours, and grading some parts of homework assignments and quizzes.

A main focus of the OLP has been to investigate whether an online course can deliver the signature aspects of a course on an ACM campus, particularly a high level of student-faculty interaction and an emphasis on building a community of learners. Evaluations of the 2013 pilot course showed that Topaz and Garrett did, indeed, create a personalized, interactive learning environment in their course.

With a charge from the ACM Board of Directors to continue exploring possibilities for consortial online courses, staff at the ACM office are organizing a new Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) for Online Learning. The academic dean at each ACM college has nominated a faculty member to serve on the committee, which will hold its initial meeting on June 6 in Chicago.

“We’re looking to the committee to think through with us the possibilities for additional online courses, particularly in view of the new FaCE grant ACM has received,” said Joan Gillespie, ACM Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs. “The committee will function along the lines of the faculty advisory committees for our off-campus study programs, playing a key role in maintaining strong connections between ACM programs and curricula on the campuses. At the meeting, they will review the student evaluations from the pilot course in 2013 and, in broad outlines, begin planning for the years ahead and discussing possible disciplines and topics for other online courses.”


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