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Otterbein Selected to Assess Online Teaching Methods in the Humanities


Otterbein will be part of a select group of independent colleges and universities that will explore online teaching methods in upper-level undergraduate courses in the humanities.

The university is one of 20 institutions recently selected to be part of the Council of Independent Colleges Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction. With the help of an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the consortium will assess the effectiveness of online teaching and learning in the humanities at liberal arts colleges and work to increase the use of online instruction informed by best practices.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to be engaged nationally in the humanities piece of online instruction,” says Otterbein Interim Provost Alison Prindle. “It will enable us to focus on being part of a structure in which our humanities faculty can share their courses with other universities. They will be able to deepen their engagement with the possibilities of online instruction and do so in a larger environment than just our campus.”

The CIC consortium will test the use of online courses as alternatives to traditional upper-level classes with a goal of determining whether institutions can conserve instructional expenditures and enhance learning outcomes for students. The project will cover three years (2014-2016).

CIC says its members will explore how liberal-arts colleges can use online learning to enhance their core mission rather than detract from it. The humanities project comes as a time when massive open online courses ( MOOCs ) seem at odds with the missions and values of most CIC institutions that emphasize low student-faculty ratios and close working relations between faculty members and students.

“Amidst all of the inflated rhetoric regarding MOOCs,” says Paul Eisenstein, dean of Otterbein’s School of Arts & Sciences, “it is opportune the CIC would launch a multi-year consortium to allow independent colleges to consider thoughtfully how online or blended courses in the humanities might be taught in ways that are consistent with such colleges' missions.”

Two faculty members from each institution will develop an upper-level course with substantial online content, pilot the course, revise it and offer it again. At Otterbein, Margaret Koehler, an associate professor of English, will develop a course on British literature in the 18th century. Jonathan DeCoster, a first-year assistant professor of history, will create a course on the American Revolution.

Ithaka S+R, a leading research and consulting service for academic innovation, will provide guidance for faculty members and evaluate the national CIC project. Otterbein will be awarded $16,500 for participating, says Diane Nance, director of the university’s Office of Sponsored Programs.

“The CIC award will allow us to study the use of online formats for humanities instruction with invaluable feedback from a national independent firm specializing in academic innovation and other CIC member institutions,” she says. “That puts us in good company to study the impact of online or blended pedagogy on student outcomes.”