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ACM's Virtual Classroom Becomes a Reality as Pilot Online Course Begins

Published: June 14, 2013

Go to ACM Notes

ACM's virtual classroom will become a reality on June 17, when 18 students from nine ACM colleges will sit down at their computers – wherever in the world they happen to be at that moment – to begin the consortium's pilot online course, Calculus: A Modeling Approach.

The course, offered at the request of the ACM Board of Directors, is an experiment to explore ways that online learning might be used to strengthen liberal arts education at member colleges, according to ACM Senior Program Officer David Schodt, who has guided the project during the past year.

Two mathematics professors, Kristina Garrett from St. Olaf College and Chad Topaz from Macalester College, were tapped to develop and team-teach the course. Information technology specialists Nancy Arsvold (St. Olaf) and Barron Koralesky (Macalester) have provided key support with the computer hardware and software needed to make the online class run smoothly.

Calculus: A Modeling Approach

"The course is designed to be participatory and interactive, including weekly small group live video tutorials with the instructors, so we capped enrollment at 20 students," Schodt noted. "As a consortial project, we also were looking to enroll students from as many of the ACM colleges as possible."

The response from students has been very positive. "More than three dozen students expressed serious interest in taking the course during the application period in March and April," said Schodt. "As the students' summer plans jelled, a number of them decided not to take the class. We ended up right where we wanted to be in terms of the size of the class, plus we have two-thirds of the colleges represented."

With its focus on applied calculus, the course is intended primarily for students who want to learn how to bring mathematical principles to bear in solving problems in disciplines throughout the sciences and social sciences. Fittingly, the topic has drawn students whose interests range across the curriculum, including majors in biology, psychology, economics, business and finance, chemistry, music, studio art, politics, Latin American studies, and others.

The eight-week course will run through August 9, and Schodt said that assessment of the project will start soon after and will likely continue throughout the fall.

"The Board wants us to use this as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the learning outcomes of this type of course," he said. "For example, can an online course replicate what's accomplished in the classrooms on ACM campuses? Could we take some of the technology and approaches used in this course to enliven classroom-based teaching? How might online course modules free up faculty to spend more face-to-face time with students, answering questions and solving problems? These are some of the questions we will be asking."


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