Bryn Mawr College recently won a $250,000 grant to experiment with online courseware developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative. The software will be used first in math and science classes and is what Wired Campus calls “a sophisticated form of ‘computer tutor’”.
Seeing a liberal arts college begin to explore online learning is interesting, as these schools are the ones that typically pride themselves on small class sizes and close student-professor relationships. Online learning is often used for independent learning and involves decreased face-to-face interaction with the professor…which is why many students and faculty members are concerned with the idea. After all, students are paying about $40,000 per year for that kind of access. However, the project’s goal is not to replace the instructor with courseware, but to make instructors’ class times more efficient. This will be achieved by using the courseware for the review of basic skills, allowing the instructor to move forward during in-class sessions. Candice Thille, the project director at OLI, explains that they “are creating a way for [instructors] to spend time in class teaching different things, freed from the burden of teaching basic skills”.
The hope now is that the project will strengthen student-instructor relationships in the long run. If all goes well, perhaps other liberal arts college will begin experimenting with ways to fit online learning into their schools.