Faculty Continues to Discuss Online Education
Issue   |   Wed, 10/17/2012 - 02:45

Last night, Oct. 16, the faculty held their third meeting of the semester. The faculty approved sixteen new courses. They also discussed several things, including Amherst’s rating falling from AAA to AA+ according to S&P, a transition to Apple-friendly products and online education.

Shannon Gurek, Interim Treasurer, reported that according to Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, Amherst’s bond rating has been decreased from AAA to AA+ due to its high debt burden. Moody’s Investors Service, however, kept Amherst’s status at AAA. Gurek explained that the debt that the College currently has was expected due to the science center renovations.
The Chief Information Officer, Gayle Barton, also gave a report to the faculty. Seventy percent of the new faculty, she explained, requested to use Macs, instead of PCs. Seeing this trend in the faculty, as well as students, the College is working to include more technology that is Apple-friendly.

Jim Brassord, Director of Facilities, gave an update on the constructions going on around campus. The new science center, he said, is underway and on schedule. The construction in Seligman is also on schedule and will be open by next fall. The Fiber Arts Center, which is the white building beside Hitchcock Dormitory and in front of the Peter Pan bus stop, will also undergo renovation. The building will be used for administrative departments currently housed in Converse, so that empty space can be used for academics. Finally, he said the renovations of Pratt Field will begin “in earnest” after the final football game in November.

Professor Lawrence Douglas, in the LJST department, wondered whether the College would continue to pursue its goal of reducing carbon footprint. Brassord explained that the College would continue to pursue that goal. He also put this goal into perspective, saying that the Merrill currently spends one third of the campus’s energy; the new science center, however, would save the College $1 million in energy costs per year.

The largest portion of the faculty meeting was dedicated to continuing the talks about online education. Although in the last meeting, the administration was in talks with three different online education consortia, they have narrowed it down to two: edX and 2tor. The two consortia provide two different platforms: 2tor is a program for students that have to take a semester off but still want to continue their Amherst education; edX is a program which is free to anyone.

They have been in talks with both consortia and have had open meetings for faculty to attend. Dean of the Faculty Gregory Call emphasized that we should focus on this opportunity because online education allows faculty to learn innovative teaching methods, and there would be the advantage of working with peer institutions.

Similarly to the last faculty meeting, the faculty raised several concerns about the online education opportunity. One of the main questions was whether the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) would approve the online courses, as it does now. President Martin agreed with the professors raising concerns and said she saw no reason why the CEP shouldn’t approve the online courses.

Many professors also said that one of the reasons that they are hesitant about moving on with online education is that they lack specifics about what each platform looks like and what the actual teaching models and presentations would be like. They requested that they be provided with something to look over for the next meeting, so that they can have an idea about what each consortium looks like.

Professor Rick Lopez wondered how students’ opinion would be taken into account when going forward with the conversations. President Martin thought it was a good idea, but said there are no concrete plans yet except for getting feedback from students already in faculty committees.

Dean Call and President Martin emphasized that they have time to make this decision, so they are not in hurry. They also explained that the College can join both consortia; they do not have to pick between the two. Seeing the concerns raised, however, they decided to bring more information to the next faculty meeting so that professors can be more informed.
Finally, before the meeting adjourned, a professor expressed that the Red Room did not have enough seating space for the entire faculty (many professors were sitting on the aisle steps); thus the administration should try to find a new space for the faculty to meet.