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New Consortium’s Mission: Improve Liberal-Arts Teaching Online

Four liberal-arts colleges on Monday formed a consortium to share information about their experiments with online education, and more members may soon join in.

The focus is not on bringing down the cost of education, but on improving online-teaching projects — whether all-online or hybrid courses — by sharing experiences and collaborating.

The premise is that liberal-arts institutions have goals and methods for going online that are different from those of research institutions. “There’s a steep learning curve to figuring out how to use this technology with our students, and with our teaching style,” said Douglas Johnson, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research at Colgate University, a founding member of the group. By working together, he said, “we can save each other from reinventing wheels.”

The other colleges involved are Davidson College, Hamilton College, and Wellesley College. All of the initial partners are also members of edX, the online MOOC provider started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but the group is open to other institutions even if they aren’t part of that organization, said Kevin P. Lynch, chief information officer at Colgate.

Ann M. Fox, a professor of English at Davidson, has taught a MOOC, “Representations of HIV/AIDS,” on edX with several colleagues at Davidson. Now she imagines co-teaching a course online with a colleague from elsewhere in the consortium. “Very often in our small campuses we’re the only person who does what we do,” she said. “We can pool our resources more greatly.”

Provosts of the four colleges, along with some professors and other leaders, gathered at Wellesley on Monday to sign a formal agreement.

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