One Reason to Offer Free Online Courses: Alumni Engagement (CHE)

By Casey Fabris

January 13, 2015

Conversations about the atomic bomb can go only so far among a classroom of 20-somethings. It’s hard for today’s students to imagine living in 1945, experiencing a world war, or, for most, serving in the military.

But bring alumni—with many more years of experience to share—into the equation, and class discussions can get a lot more interesting.

That’s what Karen Harpp is doing in her Colgate University course “The Advent of the Atomic Bomb.”

Next semester she will offer the course for a second time as a MOOC of sorts for Colgate alumni. It is not, strictly speaking, a “massive open online course” because it is not open to the public—only to alumni and others who make special requests to join.

Colgate calls its class, and others like it, “fusion” courses. Kevin Lynch, the university’s chief information officer, said they had been given the name because they are in-person courses for Colgate students with an additional online component that brings in alumni.

The fusion courses are Colgate’s first attempt at free online courses. They gave Colgate’s online courses a specific purpose and also let it test them on a “safer audience,” Mr. Lynch said.

For the last 10 years or so, Ms. Harpp has gotten alumni—even a few World War II veterans—involved in her course by having them participate on discussion boards. But with the fusion course, alumni have an even greater influence on the learning environment through new features like a Twitter re-enactment, a timeline project, and videoconference calls.

[full article here.]

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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