Monitor Board of Contributors: A Dartmouth course – free, in cyberspace

Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2014
This fall, the public will be invited to participate in a Dartmouth College course. This course will be available free over the internet or on your smartphone, part of the growing number of open online courses available on the edX platform.

Why would Dartmouth, an institution built on the idea that the best education is through a close-knit, residential learning community, create open online courses for edX?

How do we square our belief that learning occurs best in our small, face-to-face classes with our decision to offer “massive” courses on the internet?

Good questions. And they get to the heart of why our faculty took their time in recommending that Dartmouth participate in open online education, and why we eventually decided to join the edX consortium.

Dartmouth is joining edX because we believe that by participating in open online education, we will learn how to improve residential, face-to-face teaching.  

We think that making Dartmouth faculty and courses available to lifelong learners is consistent with our values of creating and disseminating knowledge and preparing our students for a lifetime of learning and responsible leadership.    

Through edX, you will be able to participate in a Dartmouth course, but you will not be able to receive a Dartmouth education.    

This distinction goes well beyond the issue of credits and degrees, neither of which will be available through edX.    

What characterizes a Dartmouth education is well-prepared students learning with faculty members who are premier scholars and thought leaders in their fields.    

Learning with our faculty means that Dartmouth educators and Dartmouth students collaborate to extend the bounds of knowledge.  

What these collaborations have in common is that they will take place at an institution that fosters close, personal bonds between our educators and learners, on a campus where our faculty and students know each other as individuals.

For Dartmouth, the decision to share some of our courses on an open online platform such as edX is a decision to embrace experimentation in teaching and learning.  

Through our open online classes we hope to learn new methods for leveraging the potential of new technologies to enhance learning.    

The large number of people that we expect to participate in our Dartmouth edX open online courses will provide a rich source of data to measure the effectiveness of our teaching materials.

The digital educational content that our faculty develop for the edX courses will also be available to our Dartmouth students in our Dartmouth (small, face-to-face) classes.

We are curious to see how effective it will be to move some of the curriculum that has been traditionally taught in a classroom to an online platform.  

We are asking ourselves, can we make even better use of the precious classroom time that our faculty have with our students?

How can our faculty best design their courses to maximize student engagement and to translate learning into action?

At Dartmouth, we are committed to building on our position as a premier institution for teaching and learning.  

We know, however, that maintaining leadership in higher education requires investment, adaptation, change and experimentation.  

We are excited to help create the future of the liberal arts model of education in the digital age.

(Joshua M. Kim is director of digital learning initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning.)